The Conversation America Needs to Have

I think that Americans, around their dinner tables, in barber shops, in bars and around the proverbial water cooler, have had the sort of conversation that takes place in part one of this fascinating roundtable dialogue in Sunday’s New York Times magazine. (It is the same issue that contains Bill Keller’s reflective essay that I discussed in this post.) That conversation would be about the rationale for war–specifically the invasion of Iraq in 2003–and whether it was merited as a legitimate response to a perceived threat, or equally for moral, humanitarian reasons (taking out a brutal dictator). That said, I’m not sure to what extent people have properly grasped the Bush Administration’s conflation of 9/11 with the actual stated reasons for the Iraq invasion.

That gets us into the second part of the Times conversation, which I am going to quote from extensively. It’s about the national security apparatus that has been constructed in response to 9/11. Are Americans fully cognizant of it? Do they care? I have no idea, but there sure hasn’t been much public reckoning of it yet. Below are some excerpts that illustrate why it’s important that reckoning take place.

Michael Ignatieff: The most obvious consequence of 9/11 to me has been the creation of a new national security state, to rival the one created at the start of the Cold War. It is an archipelago beneath democratic scrutiny, and it has done liberal democracies real damage: rendition, torture, detention without trial, Guantánamo, military tribunals. Its justification is that it has prevented an attack on the homeland. But this is a strange kind of justification: the absence of apocalypse is held to justify a permanent state of emergency, extending indefinitely into the future.  So the first question might be, with Bin Laden dead, what dismantling of this apparatus becomes possible? What enhanced oversight becomes necessary if we are not to perpetuate a permanent emergency?

Ian Buruma: …one reason Americans have allowed this to happen, I think, is that they bought into Dick Cheney’s paranoid world view, initially at least, the idea that we are in an existentialist war with terror, that Islamofascism, or whatever one wishes to call it, is a deadly threat to our existence. This is why it is so important to be clear and honest about our reasons to wage war. My opposition to the war in Iraq was not because I have a moral objection to taking out a tyrant. But the government was shifty, not clear about its reasons, and often lying about them. This damages our democracy. The same is true in Libya, I fear. Humanitarian intervention has become a fig leaf for revolutionary war, to topple a regime.

Paul Berman: Let me return for a moment to Michael’s original point [about the new national security state]. I do think there is an enormous problem of oversight. It derives from a systematic mendacity, which got its start under Bush in regard to the Iraq War, but I’m afraid has not come to an end. So we find ourselves fighting in Libya, Yemen, in Pakistan, in Somalia “” fighting in various ways “” and there is very little public recognition or discussion of this. This is an immense problem: political and moral.

Ian Buruma: But surely intellectuals, including, if I may say so, Michael and yourself [Berman], are complicit in that government mendacity. You both took the view at the time that you disagreed with most of Bush’s policies, but you were in favor of the war in Iraq, whatever Bush’s reasons. This makes light of the government’s stated reasons for war. If we accept war, just because we might like some of the possible results from it, we end up encouraging, or at least condoning, mendacity.


As I implied above, I don’t think we’ve fully grappled with the mendacity part. Longtime readers of this blog know that I’m not a fan of the ends justify the means rationale. So for example, when combatants in the climate debate resort to mendacious tactics to advance their side, I take objection. As Buruma says, “just because we might like some of the possible results from it, we end up encouraging, or at least condoning, mendacity.”

But back to the subject of this post. Here’s a fitting coda from the Danger Room’s Spencer Ackerman:

When Barack Obama ran for president, his national security team told me, in an extensive series of interviews, that a major focus of his presidency would be to confront what they called the “politics of fear” “” the national-security freakout that led to counterproductive post-9/11 moves like invading Iraq. But since coming to power, Obama has accommodated himself to the politics of fear far more than he’s confronted it.

He’s allowed widespread surveillance of American Muslims. He was reluctant to fight Congress over closing Guantanamo Bay. He backed down on holding criminal trials for the 9/11 conspirators.

Obama deserves credit for ordering the raid that killed bin Laden. But presidents don’t ever give up their power without a fight.

Only when citizens make it acceptable for politicians to recognize that the threat of terrorism isn’t so significant can the country finally get what it really needs, 10 years later: closure.

That can’t happen until we have an honest conversation about the politics of fear.

UPDATE: I’ve just become aware of this related, excellent post. Here is an excerpt:

We owe it to our veterans and to ourselves not to continue to blindly walk the path of the trajectory of 9/11, but to pause and reflect on what changes in the last ten years have been for the good and which require reassessment. Or repeal. To reassert ourselves, as Americans, as masters of our own destiny rather than reacting blindly to events while carelessly ceding more and more control over our lives and our livelihoods to the whims of others and a theatric quest for perfect security.

42 Responses to “The Conversation America Needs to Have”

  1. stan says:

    I had to laugh when I read: “My opposition to the war in Iraq was not because I have a moral objection to taking out a tyrant. But the government was shifty, not clear about its reasons, and often lying about them. This damages our democracy. ”

    Hmmmm.  I’m sure he was staunchly in opposition to every domestic policy sought by Obama then — given the lying and unclear reasoning we got from BO.  Because of the damage to our democracy and all that.

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    Stan, do you have something constructive to say or do you just want to score stupid political points that have nothing to do with the post?

    If it’s the former, great. If it’s the latter, then rather you sideline the conversation, I’ll just put you on moderation. Your choice. 

  3. Tom Fuller says:

    The conversation needs to include the prelude. We have 579 military bases in 132 countries with half a million soldiers and contractors.

    That fact takes on a life of its own, creating an imperative for supporting intelligence, interfering with domestic politics and viewing events in a country or region through a very peculiar prism.

    Start there and see where it leads.

  4. jeffn says:

    Spencer Ackerman misses the forest for the trees when he writes:
    “He’s [Obama] allowed widespread surveillance of American Muslims. He was reluctant to fight Congress over closing Guantanamo Bay. He backed down on holding criminal trials for the 9/11 conspirators.”
    So, in all seriousness, it is really impossible to believe that once Obama became president and was briefed on reality that he discovered “what they called the politics of fear” was actually a prudent response to a real threat?
    The evidence is right there, no? Liberal Democrat wins a mandate and his party takes both houses of congress based in part on the argument that the years 2001-2008 were just a neo-con over-reaction to a nothing threat. The day they take office, despite having the power and evidence of public support to dismantle the Cheney “freak out”, they completely reverse course. This reversal had no political benefit, in fact it was highly damaging to the president and the party. The reversal angered the base and won them nothing from the opposition (who were in a position to honestly say “I told you so.”)
    There is only one credible reason for this reversal- they learned their campaign press releases were wrong.

  5. cagw_skeptic99 says:

    There were several years between the first unsuccessful attack on the World Trade Center and the successful attack.  Obviously the politics of fear were inappropriate after the first attack since nothing happened for several years while the Government did essentially nothing to prevent future attacks.   People got re-elected and that was all that mattered.
    Politicians who decided to do nothing after we were attacked the first few times, except prosecute the participants who were caught, obviously made the right choices considering that the alternatives were to attack people living in other countries.
    The same folks who attacked the twin towers will probably set off a nuclear device in one of our ports, or use their newly acquired Gaddafi SAMs to take down several airplanes in a coordinated attack whenever they can manage to do so.  Until then the left will continue to rail about the politics of fear.  After the attack, the same bunch will carry on about why the Government didn’t do something more since the need will then be obvious.
    There is a reason that people like President Obama change directions once they are in office.  They get classified briefings every day based on information provided by the people who are trying to serve the best interests of the country.  Since they are in office and have actual responsibility for their decisions, they cannot just ignore the likely consequences of failing to act on the threats.  The twin towers is just one reminder of what happens when we ignore the frequently expressed intentions of those who want to harm us.
    These things do seem to go in cycles.  The more time that passes, the easier it is to forget that Hitler attacked countries who intentionally chose not to invest in their own defense.  We chose to ignore the often expressed intent of the leaders of several movements to do us harm, and they were able to do so.  A few more years of no successful attacks and the left will probably succeed in getting the Government to cut back on efforts to identify and neutralize those who want to do us harm.   All that defense money could be spent on welfare and Government jobs for people who would vote with the left, until the cycle repeats.

  6. Tom Fuller says:

    I’ve lived overseas twice for extended periods. The first time I came back to America, there wasn’t much of a change. The second time it was an undiscovered country. It seemed as if we had institutionalized fear, suspicion and paranoia while maintaining lip service to openness and inclusion. America seemed almost schizophrenic. Still does.

    cagw_skeptic99, of course there are people who hate us. Some have no reason, some actually do–we have not always been pure of heart or deed in our interactions with the world.

    But looking at the world, I don’t see much in the way of means. We cannot completely stop terrorism, but terrorism can’t really impact us unless we choose to be terrorized. I was in London after the bombing on the Underground. Everybody just walked home after work and then they just walked back to work the next day.

    The above is overly facile, I know. We do need adequate measures to beef up points of entry and high profile targets. We do need an intelligence gathering mechanism.

    And because I wasn’t here on 9/11, I confess I didn’t share the impact. I was in Rome, watching grizzled old Italian corporate executives weep over the loss of their dream–of the American icon that had made their vision of Europe possible.

    But I gotta say, I liked the old America better. And I want it back. 

  7. Keith Kloor says:

    A reader has just made me aware of this post. It is well worth reading. I have also inserted an excerpt at the bottom of my post.

  8. jeffn says:

    Tom, do you think we just “lack the political will” to repeal the “institutionalized fear?”
    Here’s what I don’t get- I hear constantly from the left of this appalling “empire” allegedly built by neo-cons under the auspices of a bogus “climate of fear.” Yet somehow,… somehow… we’ve gone through three years of liberal control of the White House and they can’t think of a single thing to repeal. Not one. They’re still hesitant about the need to get out of Iraq and, the stunner of all stunners, invading another middle eastern nation (Libya and, one could say, Pakistan).
    And the response on this site: let’s chit-chat about what a bad bad man George Bush was. Tell me, Keith and Tom, how many of the passionate anti-war types have marched outside the White House in the last three years?
    The answer is none, which correlates nicely to the left’s credibility on the issue

  9. Tom Fuller says:

    jeffn, getting captured by the institutions of power happens to a certain extent with all leaders in all countries. I’m sorry it happened to Barack Obama. 

    I think you’ll note that I haven’t attacked Bush (on this thead–I have, many times previously). And I must say I didn’t see many protesters outside the White House during the Bush administration–maybe I was watching the wrong channel.

    My point actually is that what we have constructed since the end of WWII is almost literally beyond the control of elected politicians. Our Department of Defense is pretty opaque, and any time people start talking about serious reductions in their spending, we get stories about China getting their first aircraft carrier.

    What headlines will we see when they make their first successful landing on it?

    I don’t think Bush wanted to ‘extend an American Empire’ or even maintain it. I don’t think he thought about it very much. I think the same is true for Obama. I don’t think anybody gave either of them a position paper saying we could reduce our international presence by 50% without putting our national security at risk. Because politicians don’t campaign on that kind of issue, it is excluded by default–they’re busy putting their agenda into place or defending it from attack.

    The Accidental Empire. We got it. We’re paying for it. Did we want it? Do we want it still? 

  10. harrywr2 says:

    which got its start under Bush in regard to the Iraq War

    So US involvement in the Soviet-Afghan conflict and the Iran-Iraq conflict got it’s start under which administration?
    Hint – The post WWII administration headed by an individual who many believe to be the most ardent pacifist in US history.
    Or to quote Zbigniew Brzezinski, “What’s a few overexcited Muslims compared to winning the Cold War”.
    Any intelligent discussion of ‘where we are’ in history has to go back to well before George Bush became president and examine ‘the begets’.
    The Cold War was fought by proxy.
    Each side funded more then it’s fair share of Dictators and Freedom Fighters.
    The fundamental problem with using proxies rather then a professional army is that they may or may not ‘turn off’ at the end of hostilities.
    It was all nice and good that Gorby and Reagan made nice. Some of the proxies ended up gracefully retiring, some of them morphed into even more dangerous groups and some refused to ‘step aside’
    Manuel Noriega was a fairly simple proxy to remove. Last I checked he was still living at Club Fed in Florida. Others got old and died. Others found new employers.
    The point being that the ‘artificial constructs’ and ‘unintended consequences’ of the Cold War are still impacting current events.
    People can view things as they wish, but to me viewing current events as separate from the Cold War is like looking at the devastation of a hurricane the day after the hurricane and declaring the hurricane over(there is still the flooding to be concerned about).
    Just look at Iran.
    WWII brought a joint Soviet/British invasion of Iran and an overthrow of their leader. The cold war brought an overthrow of there post WWII government and the installation of a ‘West Friendly’ dictator. Jimmy Carters desire to end the cold war brought an overthrow of their ‘West Friendly’ dictator. Then they ended up with a bloody 8 year war with their neighbor Saddam..who was at some level being supported by foreign powers. It isn’t hard to see how the Iranian government became one of the most paranoid governments on the planet.

  11. Keith Kloor says:


    You’ve mischaracterized the critique at the heart of this post. Try not to generalize, either. For the critique addressing a perpetuation of “politics of fear” is very much directed to the Obama Administration, as well.

    I realize it may be difficult for some to separate things out, but Ackerman’s post (which I cite) does a good job of that. This conversation need not be binary. We can agree on the necessity of having strong counterterrorism policies in place, and still discuss the merits of specific tactics. After all, the Intelligence folks themselves are capable of having this discussion (publicly) among themselves.

    And we can also ask important, larger questions pertaining to the institutionalization of a mindset. 

  12. Sashka says:

    I wonder if Ackerman is aware of what happened in England before they started closely monitoring their Muslims? Did political correctness completely replaced brains?

  13. Tom Gray says:

    re 1

    “My opposition to the war in Iraq was not because I have a moral objection to taking out a tyrant. But the government was shifty, not clear about its reasons, and often lying about them. This damages our democracy. ”

    Roosevelt and World War 2.

    I find it difficult to understand the sentence “This damages our democracy”. It is describing a standard part of democracy and politics. I suppose that everyone here could provide numerous examples of this and of the reactions of opponents who decry the practice while doing it themselves. The climate debate must be replete with exaggeration and mendacity, as KK points out. So why is a normal practice of democratic politics, something inherently bad?

  14. willard says:

    > Each side funded more then it’s fair share of Dictators and Freedom Fighters.

    Some share might have been “fairer” than some other.

  15. Tom Gray says:


    “Only Nixon could go to China”

    Why would this be the case?   

  16. Zajko says:

    In the case of security, the question of whether the ends justify the means should often be replaced by whether the means really lead to the ends at all. The means may be counterproductive – there are good arguments for this in regards to the Iraq War, blanket suspicion of Muslim and Arab citizens, or torture. In all too many cases, the answer is that we simply don’t know, because no one is capable of assessing the big picture, and the assumption has always been that more spending is safer. The Washington Post’s interviews for Top Secret America illustrate this quite well.
    I bet Obama got some eye-opening briefings when he came into office, but I think he also backed away from the political difficulty of advocating for a rollback of the security state, knowing that when the next underpants bomber or Times Square bomber builds something that actually goes off, the blame will start to get flung (the Ackerman piece talks about this). So while the Obama team’s rhetoric may not be as fear-inducing, their domestic security policy seems based on the same old assumptions. I’m hopeful that the next few years may see more public voices taking the lead on this, as well as more people noticing that an enormous slice of the budget pie effectively lacks accountability and oversight.

  17. Tom Gray says:

    re 16

    We in Canada are often asked the question of why the Canadian Army is fighting in Afghanistan. Of what strategic importance in Afghanistan. For me the purpose is obvious. What would happen in there were to be another World Trade Center only without the good fortune of most people escaping. What would happen if another building were to collapse and 100,000 people were to die What would the reaction of the American government be? Would it be restrained and judicious or would it strake out in anger to create absolute devastation? We are fighting in Afghanistan so that we will not have to find out.


    That is the strategic importance of installing a stable non-Taliban government in Afghanistan.

  18. Tom Gray says:

    Von Clausewitz described war as “Politics by other means”. He meant this practically. He saw the error of total war in which winning the war became an end in itself. What he proposed is that any war be looked on as a political exercise and that its ends be clearly known and the means used to accomplish it be proportional to those ends.

    When I read Ackerman’s piece, I understood him as making Von Clausewitz’s point in another way. What are the goals of the “War on Terror”? Are the means selected suited to achieving those goals? With ten years of experience, we can examine what has occurred and are better able to determine if the goals are valid and it means are conducive to these goals

  19. jeffn says:

    Keith, I am afraid you and Tom Fuller present a really devastating view of Obama that I wonder of you really intended. Is Obama really so adrift and utterly incapable of moving the country’s federal government?
    I doubt it. I did not miscategorize Ackerman at all- he clearly is arguing that the “climate of fear” is a Bush construct that Obama can’t dismantle either because he became captive of “power” or because the people are too unsophisticated to allow politicians to give up the climate of fear. This is self-serving drivel. Obama faced real political damage for failing to take action on this issue. It’s more than obvious from his actions that Obama shifted course because his campaign rhetoric – written when he knew nothing – was wrong.

  20. kdk33 says:

    Tom @17,

    Canadians are fighting in Afghanistan to protect the world for Americas wrath? 

    Perhaps you are fighting in Afghanistant to save the 100,000 people who might die in such a terrorist attack, and perhaps some recognition that it might happen north of the border. 

    That would seem more sensible.

  21. Tom C says:

    One does not have to have been for the war in order to be in favor of robust security measures.  Those who think that we are “paranoid” or “over-reacting”, are making the mistake of substituting the thought of what happened for the thought of what the terrorists wanted to have happen.  What happened was the deaths of 3,000 civillians.  What they wanted was the deaths of 50,000 civillians plus the death of thousands of our political leaders and hundreds, if not thousands of our military leaders. 

    If they could, they would gladly poison 500,000 people or set off an A-bomb.  That’s why stringent security and an aggressive military posture is needed.  The “intellectuals” that Keith so admires do not get it.

  22. Tom Gray says:

    re 20

    kdk writes

    Perhaps you are fighting in Afghanistant to save the 100,000 people who might die in such a terrorist attack, and perhaps some recognition that it might happen north of the border  

    I see no disagreement between our views. What the response to the terror threat is about is to prevent it from becoming a full scale war. Any repetition of 9/11 could provoke an uncontrolled response. I was in high school for the Cuban Missile Crisis. I can remember going to school and not knowing if I would live out the day. There was a form of rationality in those days that reasoned that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable and that would be tactically better to launch a first strike. These were not the idea of paranoid zealots. George Kennan was providing this advice to President Kennedy in the White House as a legitimate strategy. Fortunately for the world, the leaders of both sides recognized the futility of that rationalism.

    What I see the war on terror is an attempt to prevent that form of rationality from arising again. What would happen if another state sponsored or protected a terrorist group who perpetrated another 9/11. Would that sort of rationality take hold. It is not unreasoning anger held by the demented. It is the cold rationality of brilliant minds who can calculate the cost of action and inaction. In that sort of world, rationality would take over and we would all be powerless to stop it. Every step would follow each other rationally until we all destroyed each other. We are not trying to prevent another terrorist attack. We are trying to prevent a full scale cataclysm.


  23. kdk33 says:


    I see your point.  I can’t follow you down the path to full scale cataclysm.  But preventing another terrorist attack certainly makes the world safer.

  24. kdk33 says:

    Baruma argues himself into knot.  His suggestion, if not fantasy, is entirely impractical in a thriving (like arguing all the time) democracy.

    “Even though one favors implementation of certain government policies, one ought oppose that policy if government’s reason for liking the policy differs from yours”

    I’m assuming the Bush mendacity was not known at the time to which Baruma refers.  Even if it was, it is perfectly consistent to support the policy and object to the reasoning, although one might keep silent as a matter of strategy.  That’s doesn’t make one complicit; it makes one practical.

    One ought not let a theatric quest for perfect government become the enemy of good policy.

  25. Keith Kloor says:

    @ 24.

    Fascinating. Just fascinating coming from one of the climate skeptics who reads this blog.

     “…it is perfectly consistent to support the policy and object to the reasoning, although one might keep silent as a matter of strategy.  That’s doesn’t make one complicit; it makes one practical.”

    Now where have I seen evidence of that. Hmmm…

  26. Keith Kloor says:

    And while I’m at it, let’s not forget what harrywr2 said on this thread from yesterday (which I meant to comment on):

    “Unfortunately, the media and the population at large have a very difficult time understanding second order justifications for action.”

    I’m beginning to think you guys have a lot in common with some pro-AGW activists.

    Or does this kind of rationale only kick in for one’s pet cause? 

  27. kdk33 says:


    So, you are noting that some people support decarbonization policies for reasons other than CO2 induced bad weather, but are riding the band wagon because it is practical. 

    You just figured that out?

  28. Matt B says:

    @25 & 26 KK: 
    Now where have I seen evidence of that. Hmmm”¦
    I’m beginning to think you guys have a lot in common with some pro-AGW activists.
    If I read this right, KK, you are putting forth the proposition that some pro-AGW activists support strong efforts for decarbonization while not being overly persuaded by the science and they decide to keep quiet on their science misgivings in order to keep focus on the more important decarbonization goal. Would that be a fair reading of your position?
    Because that sounds a lot like what Roger P Jr is doing (except for when they tick him off on catastrophic weather projections), and I agree for the most part with RPJ, and would join his crew. But he is always getting the crap knocked out of him by the hard-core AGW activists for not taking the one true Loyalty Oath.
    If you can find a way for people to be pro-decarbonization and anti-silly science or fantasy windmillian solutions, then I think you could get quite a movement going.


  29. Tom Fuller says:

    Matt B, meet Paul Kelly. Paul Kelly, meet Matt B.

  30. Eli Rabett says:

    The Romans had a solution to being so wrong that we would do well to embrace.  Keller should take himself to a monastery and not the back page of the NY TImes and that goes for a whole bunch of folks.

  31. Tom Fuller says:

    Rabett, your drivel always arrives with a Benedictine postmark. Are you addressing Helen Keller or merely the rest of the blind who think you have something to say?

  32. Marlowe Johnson says:

    I think it would be more accurate to say that the support that some people have for decarbonization objectives is independent of their views on climate change.  Some, for example, support such policies on the grounds of energy security, while others might emphasize the health benefits.

    Wrt to the treatment that RPJr gets from other climate bloggers and scientists, I would suggest that it has very little to do with ‘loyalty oaths’ and much more to do with the asymmetric nature of his criticisms of climate scientists/advocates/institutions.

    On a side note, if windmills turbines are such a fantasy, then why is Mid American investing so heavily in them in Iowa?

  33. Sashka says:

    @ 32
    why is Mid American investing so heavily in them in Iowa?
    You could guess the right answer if you think about why Bank of America bought Countrywide.

  34. Matt B says:

    @ 32 Marlowe,

    Thanks for the perspective. I understand that view on RPJ but disagree with it; it’s not like he’s out promoting Mark Morano. To me he makes it very clear that be believes AGW is real & he thinks it is a risk that needs to be addressed, but he disagrees with how some mainstream activists approach this issue. He also disagrees with attribution of catastrophic weather events to AGW given the evidence we have today. To me these disagreements are no big deals, and his viewpoint still puts him firmly in the AGW activist camp, but because of these “minor” (my view) disagreements he gets treated by some vocal critics like a pariah. 

    It does appear to me that much of the AGW activist crowd desires “purity of thought” at a high level and that makes me unconfortable, especially in relation to the scientific discussion. 

    Regarding MidAmerica’s wind power push, it just makes no sense to me that wind will ever be a competitive electricity  genetrating technolgy, even in prime Iowa locations. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) puts the federal subsidy of wind at over $56.00/MW-hour in 2010, and that does not seem sustainable. I cannot see any other answer but nuclear to the decarb problem in electricity generation, and I struggle to see why other technologies garner so much support.

  35. Paul Kelly says:

    The variety of reasons framing Marlowe described is indeed resisted by the AGW community. Some, like Bart V, accept it in principle. Catastrophists like M Tobis are deathly afraid of diminishing the importance of climate in decarbonization. 
    Marlowe also demonstrates the superiority of variety of reasons. “The support that some people have for decarbonization objectives is independent of their views on climate change”. Not just some people, lots of people. In fact, as many or more than those who insist on climate alone. Most importantly, variety of reasons leads to an improved focus communication model centered on the correct goal of decarbonizing.

  36. Marlowe Johnson says:

    The degree to which one finds asymmetrical criticisms from someone who berates others for their partisan/tribal behaviour distasteful is of course a matter of taste 😉  

    “It does appear to me that much of the AGW activist crowd desires “purity of thought” at a high level and that makes me unconfortable, especially in relation to the scientific discussion. ”

    Not sure how to respond to this other than to point you to this recent discussion over at MT’s where a civil, yet clear disagreement is taking place between two AGW ‘activists’.  BTW, how does one distinguish between climate activists and climate non-activists?

    Lastly, wrt to wind energy and subsidies, rather than taking what the CATO/AEI/Institute for Energy Research folks are are saying at face value, you might consider the some of the words of caution from the EIA in the report itself.

    “While the overall amount of federal subsidies and support provided per unit of overall energy consumption or production has clearly grown, simply dividing the current value of subsidies by current consumption or production does not reflect either the long-run impact of imbedded subsidies and or the future impacts of current subsidies and support that may only be starting to impact energy markets.”

    Given the statutory limits on the scope of their work and the quite predictable manner in which some people would (ab)use the report, they also felt it worthwhile to issue a separate press release outlining the limitations of the 2010 study.  Finally, you might be interested to know that if you look at the 2007 report, you’ll see that wind subsidies were actually lower on a $/MWhr basis than coal.

  37. Andy says:

    This has been an interesting couple of threads.  For those who don’t know or don’t remember (since I’m an infrequent commenter), I work in the US intelligence community with the Defense Department.  I wrote  sort of a guest post for Keith here a while ago.  I’m also the one who sent Keith the link to Zenpundit’s (aka Mark Safranski) post which he kindly linked to and quoted.
    Mark’s post pretty much mirrors my own thoughts and concerns going forward.  Increasingly I’ve come to the conclusion that fighting past battles is counterproductive and what’s needed is work on an affirmative vision of the future.  Personally, I want to focus on what I believe are more important issues than the retrospective blaming and political point-scoring that seems all too common these days.  We can’t ignore recent history, of course, but I think we’ve become trapped by it which keeps us, collectively, stumbling along blindly into dangerous territory.   Victories in these partisan battles will prove to be transitory, or pyrrhic, or both in my opinion.
    I think where I disagree with Keith is when he says we need some kind of “national conversation” to get out that trap.  The problem is that the conversation usually leads right back to where we started.  I think we have to grapple with the notion that we are not collectively “past” 9/11 yet and I think we need to acknowledge that it’s going to take some time before we are.  This is a process we can’t force or hurry along since 9/11 is, for many people, more an emotional issue than one governed by reason.  Lecturing people about how they should or shouldn’t feel is not likely to be well received.
    That’s not to say we must throw up our hands and do nothing.  Historically, we have managed to roll back security-state excesses following wars without a “national conversation” and without a national catharsis.   I see no reason why that long-standing pattern will not repeat, at least with regard to civil liberties.
    The more difficult problem, in my view, is changing course for the ship-of-state.  Until 1991 we had a strategic model and a clear role for our nation in world affairs, though that role was not without controversy and dissent.  Since 1991, however, my sense is that we’ve been rudderless as we basked in the perceived success at winning the Cold War while trying to maintain our hegemony while using that power unevenly.  “What is America’s role in the world?” should be The Big Question. Ideological factions (the Neocons being the most famous followed by liberal interventionists) are struggling over the control of the ship’s wheel but none have yet won decisively.  So we’ve yet to really adjust to the post Cold War world in a sustainable, much less consistent, manner. 
    More problematic is the underlying assumption that guides most of these factions fighting for the ship’s wheel: That American hegemony will continue and that America will continue to enjoy the ability to intervene globally to protect our perceived interests or promote the national vision-du-jour.  American power ultimately rests on our economic power and that economic power is likely to decline <em>relative </em> to the rest of the world.  Additionally, our current fiscal situation and especially projections for the next decade are very sobering and it seems very likely to me that we will not be able to maintain the status quo. Much of our present policy, both foreign and domestic, is simply unsustainable. Already the various parts of government are jockeying for position in the inevitable budget fights which are coming sooner rather than later.  This will, IMO, eventually present the American public with a wake-up-call that can’t be ignored and force them to make choices on resource allocation they are unaccustomed to making.  It’s not going to be a pretty process.

  38. Andy says:

    Whoops!  Sorry for the microsoft fail.

  39. Keith Kloor says:


    Thanks for your comment. Food for thought, as usual.

    You write: 

    “Much of our present policy, both foreign and domestic, is simply unsustainable.” 

    I’d be curious to hear which public thinkers/analysts you believe are offering constructive critiques that address this.

  40. Andy says:

    There aren’t many prominent voices unfortunately – at least that I’m aware of.  The CBO director put out some great stuff on the nation’s fiscal situation, especially two posts here and here.  Our fiscal future is going to be a huge factor in these questions – for example, if we want to be able to maintain the kinds of defense relationships and military power that we’re accustomed to, then that is going to come with costs and tradeoffs.  These are issues (explained very clearly by the CBO director in those posts) I don’t really see many prominent pundits tackling in a serious way – most are fighting partisan and ideological battles that are growing less relevant every year.

  41. EdG says:

    re 20-22

    Canada is in Afghanistan because the then Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, could not add Canadian forces to the Iraq adventure for political reasons so he chose Afghanistan to placate the Bushites instead because he and everybody – well, the wishful thinkers – thought it was all but over. Didn’t work out so simply.

    Speaking of Canada, I see that Michael Ignatieff was quoted. He’s not an American when he wants to pretend he is still a Canadian, as when the powers that be installed him as the leader of the Canadian Liberal Party. A total fake flake, with an impressive vocabulary.  

    Needless to say, he was a total flop in that venture as the Conservatives (correctly) branded him as a carperbagging opportunistic ‘visitor.’

  42. EdG says:

    #37 – Andy. Interesting. But looking at the spending, it certainly does look like the Military-Industrial complex finds the endless ‘War on Terror’ as a fine substitute for the Cold War.

    Must have a suitably scary enemy to keep up that kind of spending.

    Of course, the AGW fear-mongering extortionists learned everything they know from the Military-Industrial Complex.

    Fear sells, and makes customers stupid. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *