The Echo Chamber
Saturday, September 21, 2002
  7:58 PM

Michael Kinsley over at Slate wrote an article entitled “Deliver Us From Evil.” Slate's front-page links to the article with the tagline “Quit calling Osama Evil.” Kinsley feels that “evil” as a concept is not useful during this conflict. I couldn’t disagree more. So, on with the fisking!
Of all the explanations for Sept. 11, 2001, and the subsequent alleged war on terrorism, the least illuminating is that it's all about evil.
Oh really? How could Kinsley have missed this “explanation” from Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien?
"You know, you cannot exercise your powers to the point of humiliation for others. That is what the Western world -- not only the Americans, the Western world -- has to realize. Because they (the have-nots) are human beings too. There are long-term consequences if you don't look hard at the reality in 10 or 20 (or) 30 years from now," he said.

Chretien continued: "And I do think the Western world is getting too rich in relation to the poor world and necessarily, you know, we're looked upon as being arrogant, self-satisfied greedy and with no limits. And September 11 is an occasion for me to realize it even more."

Back to Kinsley:
William J. Bennett—the Martha Stewart of morality—takes up the theme in a quickie book, Why We Fight, a Web site (www.avot.org, "avot" being "Americans for Victory Over Terrorism"), and in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed piece. "It took George W. Bush … to revive the language of good and evil," Bennett slobbers." Until a year ago, he avers, "terms like 'evil,' 'wrong,' and 'bad' " were not in "the lexicon." And even now, a fifth column of "pseudo-sophisticated intellectuals" is undermining America's war effort with nefarious suggestions that it might be more complicated than that. Bennett's evidence that the concept of evil is endangered is pretty thin. He scrounges up a couple of professors making moral-relativist noises about understanding terrorists as people and the possibility that America's own actions may have contributed to America's current dilemma. Neither of them is actually quoted dissing the word "evil."

Kinsley is just being disingenuous here. Moral relativism has crept into every part of life in America. Have you ever heard this phrase - “well, that may be true for you, but that’s not true for me.” I have. Pick any daytime talk show. Moral relativism is used to justify everything. But even if Kinsley were right that the concept of evil had never been lost, would that be any reason for not judging terrorists evil? Kinsley is “dissing” the concept of evil because no one has been “dissing” the concept of evil. One could get dizzy with that logic.

And for someone “dissing” the concept of evil, Kinsley should read some of Norman Mailer’s recent rants.

Kinsley again:

My own impression, for what it is worth, is that concepts like "bad" and "wrong" did pop up occasionally before 9/11 and that there has never in our entire history been a proposition from which fewer Americans dissent than "Osama Bin Laden is evil." Calling terrorists "evil" requires no courage and justifies no self-congratulatory puffing. It's just not a problem.
Then what in heaven’s name is Kinsley complaining about?

In spite of the inroads made by moral relativism, I will grant that “evil” as a concept was not extinct in American private life. But the concept had become especially passé in public life. Ronald Reagan’s famous judgment of the Soviet Union was the last time that I recall it being used. Mr. Bush was speaking of a public rediscovery of the concept.

There are many people, unfortunately, who would be happy to hijack four airplanes, fly them into crowded buildings, and kill 3,000 Americans. In terms of malign intent, they all are evil. But only one of them managed to actually do it.
Is Kinsley aware that 19 “managed to actually do it?” Is his point that it only happened once? If it is, then so what?
The concept of evil tells you nothing about why—among the many evils wished upon the United States—this one actually happened. Nor does "evil" help us to figure out how to stop evil from visiting itself upon us again.
Nobody thinks Bush’s job was over after he labeled these terrorists evil. That was the beginning of his job. But it was an important beginning. It was the foundation on which our resistance to these madmen is built. I mean, if we are no better than these people, then maybe we should, as Norman Mailer suggests, learn to tolerate terror.

But we are better than these people. We are better by every measure that matters.

If the great essential truth about terrorism is that some people just hate the United States, the obvious next question is, Why? But that is precisely the question that offends the All-About-Evil crowd, because it leads in two unacceptable directions. One is toward psychology, attempting to understand how a human mind could plot the deaths of so many innocents and/or gladly die in carrying it out. "Root causes" is what this kind of thinking is called in the context of domestic social issues like crime and welfare, and conservatives regard it as a major liberal disease, with symptoms that include coddling criminals and forgiving sloth.
The reason they hate us has nothing to do with Kinsley’s two “unacceptable directions.” Douglas Davis of the Jerusalem Post writes:
The real answer is more complex and has its roots in an event that occurred a decade and more ago when the world woke up to find that the Soviet empire had collapsed, the Cold War was over and America had been left as the triumphal superpower in a new, unipolar world…

America's victory is comprehensive and complete. Not only has it won the political argument, but it has prevailed militarily, economically, technologically and culturally. Moreover, it has established an unassailable lead in all of these critical areas.

The sheer scale of the victory is breathtaking...

The uncompromising America of Bush is rooted in a set of uncompromising, unforgiving principles: the ideals of a vibrant democracy, individual liberty, free markets...

To be sure, the anger that is directed at America today, particularly among the poorer nations, is anchored in frustration and humiliation. But it is not so much anger at what America has done to them as humiliation at what the developing world has failed to do for itself. And failure breeds resentment.

Mired in a predicament of its own making, the developing world is in thrall to decrepit political and economic systems, led by men who, all too often, place their own political survival ahead of the well-being of their people.

Envy coupled with hopelessness produce a combustible mix…

In the just published “National Security Strategy,” the President makes this statement:
The events of September 11, 2001, taught us that weak states, like Afghanistan, can pose as great a danger to our national interests as strong states. Poverty does not make poor people into terrorists and murderers. Yet poverty, weak institutions, and corruption can make weak states vulnerable to terrorist networks and drug cartels within their borders.
Back to Kinsley:
If the subjective basis for terrorists hating America is off limits for consideration, that would seem to leave the objective basis: Is it something we did, or didn't do, to them or theirs? But this violates the ancient conservative taboo (c. 1984, styling by Jeane Kirkpatrick) against "blaming America first." So, check and mate: Terrorism is evil, evil, evil—gosh, it's evil—and there's nothing else to discuss.
Well...yeah. Its not that we haven't heard the Jean Chretien's of the world. We heard, and then we told them to stick it.
This is an astonishingly philistine, know-nothing posture for a group of people (mostly neoconservative would-be muscular-intellectual types) who generally preen as the guardians of intellectual standards.

IRONY METER…CAN’T…TAKE…MUCH…MORE….

As for the parenthetical insult, take out the “would-be,” and that would be a description I would be proud of.

They are so afraid of the fallacy of "tout comprendre c'est tout pardoner…"
Wow. Foreign talk. Isn’t it good to have guardians of intellectual standards?
…that they fall right into it: In order to avoid the danger that understanding terrorism might lead to excusing terrorism, they put understanding itself beyond the pale. This is not just anti-intellectual, but actually a hindrance to the war on terrorism. Blocking any deeper understanding of the terrorist's mentality and motives cannot be good for the war effort.
Hey Kinsley, how about some examples of how this is not good for the war effort? None are forthcoming. Sometimes its best for the populace to simply despise an enemy while the intelligence experts seek to understand the terrorist’s mentality and motives so that they can predict their next move.

But for those who want to understand these guys, its not hard. These radicals have been taught from an early age to worship a moody tyrant of a god who demands a life of blind and brutal service. Women are to be treated as servants, incubators, and sex objects. The Islamic world was once the preeminent civilization in the world, but a western culture of infidels has robbed them of their rightful place. For this reason, they believe, all of western culture should be destroyed. First to be destroyed must be America because she is the pinnacle of Western progress, decadence, and arrogance. They believe American culture is pervasive and corrosive to Islamic values. And, if this were not enough for them to hate us, America loves Jews and Israel and supports Israel against Islamic nations.

Knowing this, how is that going to affect our dealings with them? Answer: It will not have any effect. Since all they want is either or death or our mass conversion to radical Islam, they want nothing from us that we can give them. So its war.

Using the word "evil" to resist any more complex understanding of terrorism is doubly philistine because of what the study of evolutionary psychology is learning about how much of human behavior is hard-wired into our brains. Ordinarily conservatives are quite thrilled by the idea of a genetic basis for nearly anything and eager to accuse liberals of refusing to face the truth. The whole subject appeals to their treasured sense of futility. In this case, though, it is conservatives who are hiding from science. Advances in our understanding of the brain do indeed pose a challenge to the moral concept of blame or fault or guilt or, yes, even evil.
Is it any wonder that conservatives are a little queasy with this? Kinsley’s thesis is that the use of the concept of “evil” is not useful during this conflict. I assert that Kinsley’s evolutionary biology and slippery blame shtick is not useful. Worse, it’s harmful.

The problem here is a lack of empathy on Kinsley’s part. He is objectifying this conflict to such an extent that he lacks any association with the victims of September 11, and with any potential victims in the future. If Kinsley is right about evolutionary psychology, so what? Ours is the country under attack! Let historians and social scientists fifty years from now struggle with those implications. Our job right now is to kill these evil people.

But the challenge is not necessarily insurmountable. (Robert Wright explores and explains all this in his wonderfully lucid book, The Moral Animal.)
And I’m a fan of Robert Wright’s Nonzero. “Nonzero” is about evolutionary principles on the societal level. Here’s a societal evolutionary riddle: If two societies clash and one is vastly superior to the other technologically (it is the "fittest" culture by all obvious measures), how can the lesser culture prevail? Answer: By employing the superior culture’s technology and moral conflict against itself.
In any event, wrapping yourself in the flag and burying your head in the sand—please take a moment to imagine Bill Bennett in this condition—is not an appropriate way to deal with an unwelcome philosophical challenge. It may not be evil, but it isn't very nice.
Patriotism and moral clarity are anathema to liberals. You’ll not catch any liberal congressmen speaking like this during a time of war. It would be political suicide. But if you saw them looking lost or uneasy as their conservative brethren were getting choked up at a memorial service, you shouldn’t wonder why. Kinsley has expressed their thoughts. 


Friday, September 20, 2002
  1:25 PM

Do you want to understand the greatness of the United States? Read "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America." Here is the first paragraph:
The great struggles of the twentieth century between liberty and totalitarianism ended with a decisive victory for the forces of freedom—and a single sustainable model for national success: freedom, democracy, and free enterprise. In the twenty-first century, only nations that share a commitment to protecting basic human rights and guaranteeing political and economic freedom will be able to unleash the potential of their people and assure their future prosperity. People everywhere want to be able to speak freely; choose who will govern them; worship as they please; educate their children—male and female; own property; and enjoy the benefits of their labor. These values of freedom are right and true for every person, in every society—and the duty of protecting these values against their enemies is the common calling of freedom-loving people across the globe and across the ages.
Link via The Indepudit


  12:40 PM

Don't miss Peggy Noonan today. 


  9:41 AM

There were several good questions raised in the comments to yesterday’s UN post. I’m combining these questions into two composites:
  1. Why should a unilateral action by the US in Iraq lead to the end of the UN?

    I’m not suggesting that the UN will close up and go home. Many organizations outlive their true usefulness. But if the UN shows itself to be irrelevant in this conflict, there will be a corresponding loss of prestige and power for the organization. I believe this is a slippery slope. Once it starts down this path, the UN could quickly become little more than an international gentlemen’s club.

    This power vacuum would eventually be filled. The question is, by what?

  2. Your suggested qualifications are too exclusive. Are you suggesting that the United States be the only member?

    Admittedly, there is wishful thinking in my qualifications, particularly the qualification that member countries spend 3% of their GDP on defense.

    One justified complaint that the US has long had about the UN is that the US has always carried too much of the burden for UN police actions. It has been a thankless job for my country. Europeans see no irony in pausing from their month-long holiday to gripe about American cowboys while American taxpayers finance European defense.

    Yes, this defense qualification is probably too exclusive, but there should be some requirement that member countries be prepared to engage in conflicts.

    Many of the other qualifications would also be a stretch. But why not give a worthy goal that countries can aspire to? Perhaps some form of Junior membership with less voting power could be made available to countries that are in transition.

    The charter members of the UN were much too liberal in accepting new members. They acted as though all forms of government are equal. What good can come from giving equal voice to a murderous dictator?

UPDATE: On a potentially related note: Scott Koenig is writing that the UK should join an "Anglosphere Alliance" instead of the EU.

UPDATE: Tim Blair and Doug Morris have some hilarious suggestions for UN monuments. Link via Instapundit.

UPDATE: B. Preston over at JunkYardBlog speculates on how post-September 11th military committments in the Middle East could change our relationship with Europe.

 


Thursday, September 19, 2002
  10:56 AM

We are still too close to September 11 to be able to foresee all the ways that this event will change the world.

One possible casualty could be the United Nations. The President warned the UN that the United States would have no choice but to act alone if the UN failed to ratify multilateral action to enforce its own resolutions.

On Monday Iraq offered to allow inspectors in "unconditionally." Although its been pointed out that this offer is not truly unconditional, and that new conditions have always been added by Iraq in the past, many UN members are still likely to push these inspections as an alternative to military action.

It is likely now that by mid-October Congress will vote and approve action in Iraq. Tom Daschle's latest remarks suggests that he would like the Congressional resolution to be contingent on UN approval. But I don't think Daschle is going to get his way on this. Bush will be able to characterize the action as self-defense, thereby trumping any decision from the UN. If Daschle pushes too hard he will be on the wrong side of a self-defense issue, and that is not where he or his party wants to be post-September 11. Ultimately, the Congressional resolution will give Bush a free hand.

So if November comes and the UN is still sidetracked by an Iraqi conceived inspection program, the UN will likely be left to impotently whine as the US moves to topple Saddam. This will be, as Secretary Powell put it, a terrible indictment against the UN.

The League of Nations lacked the power to prevent World War II. The United Nations has power, but lacks the will to ever use its power in ways that matter. The UN is quite satisfied with U.S. soldiers being sent to fight and die in meaningless police actions. But when it comes to toppling a corrupt dictatorship like the Iraqi regime, it can't get moving. The problem is that the UN counts as members too many corrupt dictatorships. The most obvious example is Syria. There is very little that our country has in common with Syria. And yet that country sits on the UN security council.

If the US is forced to act unilaterally, the United Nations will fade into irrelevance and obscurity. The need would then arise for a new international body. What sort of organization would be useful and desirable? Membership should be exclusive to countries that share certain key values. Members should be multi-party Democracies. They should protect freedom of speech, assembly, and the freedom of religion. Their economies should be capitalistic. And, they should commit a certain percentage (probably around 3%) of their GDP to their national defense.

While there are always differences in any healthy organization, a membership that meets these criteria would have enough in common that they would have the will to act as important dangers arise.

But issues that are important to the United States are insufficiently important to the United Nations. For now, the only reason to hope that the UN will support a US led action in Iraq, is fear among member nations of a future without the UN.

UPDATE: Christopher Johnson at The Midwest Conservative Journal comments on why "the United Nations has never been so close to being shown the door by the United States." 


Wednesday, September 18, 2002
  4:40 PM

Blogging at the White House?

Scott Koenig over at The Indepundit points to an article at the White House web page that contains a timeline of "Saddam Hussein’s Deception and Defiance." This timeline shows that time and time again Saddam has said he would allow unconditional inspections, only to go back on his word.

What makes me smile upon reading this document is the fact that its a blog. No, it won't be updated daily. But it was written in the same style as many of the conservative bloggers I follow. The writer simply did what we bloggers have done a thousand times. He or she took a dry recitation of facts and pulled from it information necessary to lay out a devastatingly logical argument. The whole article amounts to a Saddam fisking.

Yesterday Koenig scares Daschle out of dawdling, today the White House imitates our style. What next? Glenn Reynolds for President, 2008! 


  6:59 AM

An interview with Scott Ritter, Restaurant Inspector.
 


Tuesday, September 17, 2002
  8:42 PM

Forget the possible "bright side" to the Iraqi inspection offer I talked about earlier. It turns out that the offer to allow inspections applied only to military bases.

This is worse than having no inspections. Saddam is obviously not developing these things in obvious places like at military bases. Accepting such an offer would be handing Saddam a political victory. And, of course, he's already talking about this "unconditional access" resulting in the lifting of sanctions.

Saddam's move was to be expected of course. By making this offer, Saddam dilutes the will of the U.N., and peals away the weaker Arab and Europe support.

Now is the time for the U.S. to show its resolve. 


  3:14 PM

There is a comment thread off of this post
at Scott Koenig’s blog, The Indepundit, where I take issue with Brian P. Evans for this thought:
“Somehow, I don't think anybody is in any position to force another country to change its government through some "pre-emptive strike" nonsense. That is not what this country is about. Bush's entire thrust has been to get rid of Hussein using the violations as a pretext when it needs to be the other way around: The violations are paramount and if getting into compliance means sending in the troops, then so be it.
My response:
Because Bush is not a true believer in world govenment, everything he does is illegitimate? I think it is more important that Bush do the right thing than for him to have a P.C. motivation for doing the right thing.
Well, it turns out that Brian is not the only one who thinks that motivations in this war effort are more important than actions:
Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) told me [Morton M. Kondracke] last week that he'll probably end up supporting Bush, but he writes and speaks like a philosophizing Hamlet, musing that the United States should go to war only if it has to, not because it wants to. The real question is: Should we go to war?
This is typical of liberals. You shouldn’t judge by results. That’s not fair! Judge our intentions. We mean well, the nasty Republicans don’t. This drivel has been accepted with no challenge on lessor issues so long that its now being used even when our national security is at stake.

The end result of all this needless soul searching is the delay of not only the war, but a delay of even entering into an honest war debate.
 


  11:08 AM

After correcting a child, how does a parent know that the child has reformed? By judging the child’s attitude. If the child accepts that he’s done wrong and is sorry, it shows.

To think of Iraq as the red-headed step-child of nations ignores its danger. As would an Eddie Haskell metaphor. Iraq is more like that Macaulay Culkin character in “The Good Son.”

So can we judge now whether this Iraqi regime is serious about accepting new inspections and wishes to reform?

The early signs are not good.

Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz announced that Iraq “had robbed the United States of any reason to wage war by agreeing to re-admit U.N. arms inspectors.”

Aziz urged France, Russia and China, all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, and Annan to check the performance of any future inspectors. In the past Iraq has accused them of spying for Washington.

"When the inspectors do not act honestly and professionally, they (France, Russia and China) should tell them 'you have to behave yourself and act according to what the Security Council wants and not what the United States and Britain want'."

Aziz said the skeptical U.S. and British reaction to Baghdad's decision to readmit the inspectors had revealed their "true (negative) intentions toward Baghdad.

This guy does not sound chastened. This guy does not look chastened.
“We hope that the return of inspectors will lead as soon as possible to the lifting of sanctions and normalizing the situation around Iraq," Aziz said.
…because its been a real pain obtaining nuclear bomb components under these sanctions.

So the U.N. will abandon talk of a resolution ratifying military force. And Saddam will begin again a “cat and mouse” game with inspectors. There’s nothing new under the sun.

The danger is that the world will consider inspectors to be a cure-all for the Saddam problem. It will be the job of the U.S. to continually press its case against Iraq.

There could be a bright side to all of this. Forcing Saddam into this "cat and mouse" game could reduce the risk that his nuclear, chemical, and biological programs pose. Presumably Iraq will have to distance himself from terrorist groups. Lastly, the world knows how we got to this point. It wasn’t UN negotiators. It was Iraq’s fear of attack by the U.S.

HOW OTHER BLOGGERS SEE THIS:

 


Monday, September 16, 2002
  1:05 PM

DOG THE WAG

So which is worse? A politically motivated war (wag the dog), or failing to enter a necessary war for fear that it might appear politically motivated?

Tom Dashle wants to delay voting on a war resolution until after the November elections so that political considerations won't enter into the debate. In other words, Mr. Dashle doesn't want the Democratic party held accountable for this vote with its constituents. Experience tells Dashle that if the vote occurs after this November election, it will be long forgotten before the following election.

This morning we learned that Iraq, by using German components and Brazilian uranium, could have a working nuclear device in months. This according to former Iraqi nuclear scientist, Dr Khidir Hamza.

Dashle's delay under these circumstances is dangerous enough to warrant the coining of a new phrase:

Dashle is “dogging the wag.”

UPDATE: I just went to The Indepundit and saw that I must have been channeling Scott Koenig with this post. Check out his thoughts on this subject:

UPDATE: And thanks to Christopher Johnson of Midwest Conservative Journal for suggesting this New Republic article on the same subject. 


Sunday, September 15, 2002
  7:49 AM

Last night Glenn Reynolds over at Instapundit posted some interesting thoughts on the subject of criminal prosecutions:
Of course, any system run by humans is going to be imperfect. Even the old maxim, "better ten guilty go free than one innocent be convicted," seems implicitly to suggest that if the ratio were 100-1 things might be different. (See Sasha Volokh's already-famous law review article on this very issue.)

To my mind, the real test of a system isn't whether or not it makes mistakes: by that standard, all systems will fail, since all make mistakes. The real test is whether the mistakes were made in good or bad faith, and whether the response to them, once they're discovered, is marked by good or bad faith. What unfortunately happens in some criminal cases is that prosecutors try to block DNA tests, or hide exculpatory evidence, to keep a conviction from being overturned. I consider that sort of behavior to be the very worst sort of crime -- because it's not only wrong in itself, but undermines the whole system.

Efficiency is the key to understanding criminal justice systems. In every culture, criminal justice systems evolve according to what is most efficient. All societies start of with a system of “self-help.” If someone steals your goat, you do your own investigation, retake the goat, if possible, and exact the level of punishment on the thief that you feel is appropriate.

This is a highly inefficient system because it takes the individual away from the productive work of goat-herding, requires him to do something he is probably not trained to do (investigate a crime), requires him to be powerful enough with weapons or physical strength to overcome the thief, and there is no guarantee that the punishment will fit the crime (indeed, human nature assures us that the punishment will probably be excessive).

The greater the efficiency of its criminal justice system, the greater the advantage a society will have over peer societies (and the more likely the society will absorb the members of neighboring competing societies). Its members will be less plagued with crime because actual criminals are locked away. Its members will forgo self-help and continue their productive work after being victimized by a crime because they will be satisfied that “justice will be done.”

What makes a criminal justice system efficient? Certainly good faith is important. If a prosecutor is more interested in his numbers than in “getting it right,” innocents will go to jail. This means productive members of society will be taken away from their work and locked up while criminals will be left on the street to plague society further.

It is true that any system will have failures. This means that the price of having a criminal justice system is that some innocent people will be punished. As heartless as it sounds, societies have always found that this is a price worth paying.

So is there any truth to the adage, “better ten guilty go free than one innocent be convicted?” From the point of view of the innocent who is locked away, it would be better that all go free than one innocent be convicted. But for society as a whole, the guilty to innocent ratio is constantly being negotiated. 


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