Misreading A Question and Answer

At Daily Kos, Devil's Tower misreads a question and answer from the last Democratic debate. When pressed by Wolf Blitzer to choose between US national security and human rights, Chris Dodd said:

DODD: Obviously, national security, keeping the country safe.

Devil's Tower took this to mean that Dodd would compromise the Constitution:

The job of the president is to defend the Constitution. The Constitution first, the Constitution last, the Constitution always. Nowhere is the president given one inch of leeway to consider setting aside that Constitution in exchange for an illusion of security.

Devil's Tower is mistaken. What was being referred to by the question was US posture when human rights in other countries may conflict with US national security interests. Not when the Constitution might conflict with our own security interests. It is ironic that Devil's Tower misinterprets Dodd, who has done more to fight for the restoration of habeas corpus than any other member of Congress. More.

Consider Pakistan. Pakistan is not now a democracy and human rights are violated there every day. Some speculate that Musharraf is becoming a modern version of the Shah for US foreign policy. The argument here is that US security interests are being hurt by NOT supporting human rights in Pakistan. And there could very well be merit to that argument. But the argument assumes that national security interests prevail over concerns for human rights in Pakistan.

Devil's Tower converts this age old realpolitik versus idealistic foreign policy debate (think Samuel Huntington) into something it is not.

Now this could certainly be a reasonable and defensible reason to condemn Dodd. But let's be clear, it has nothing to do with trampling the Constitution. Devil's Tower's interpretation is simply wrong here.

Update [2007-11-19 9:22:17 by Big Tent Democrat]: I want to add from this post about George Packer because the simplistic thinking brought to bear by Devil's tower here is extremely reminiscent of the liberal interventionists who supported the Iraq Debacle:

In the end, here is Packer's problem, . . .:
Anyone who spent time in Iraq during those months [after the fall of Baghdad] can't forget the longing of Iraqis for a simple, ordinary life, and their openness to those of us who came from outside. That memory, and the knowledge that, hidden now behind the screen of unbelievable violence, those same Iraqis are still there, makes it very difficult for me to write the whole thing off.

Well, this is aiming to sound admirable - to caring about the plight of the Iraqi people. And Packer no doubt does. But what does his empathy mean in practical terms of policy making? How does wanting to do something relate to the ability to do something and the wisdom of attempting to do something? This is his essential failing and he still fails to understand.

General Wesley Clark says "If you can do good, you should." The key word is "can." And "how" of course. The idea that anybody in the political discussion would not want a free and democratic Iraq is just nonsense. Everybody wants that. I want a free and democratic China too. I don't see Packer advocating a war of liberation there. . . .

This kind of sentimentalization of the extraordinarily bad judgment shown by the liberal hawks is exactly the wrong approach to discussing the issue. If their mindset remains mired in this approach, they simply are not credible to discuss the issues of foreign policy that require discussion.

This sentimentalization approach of Packer's is reinforced in this passage:

Last night I received an e-mail from a soldier I met in Iraq in July 2003 who is now agonizing over the way forward. He wrote: "I hoped all the way until March 2003 that we wouldn't go to war with Iraq. I'd heard all the arguments for it, many of which were good...I just didn't think that fighting a war to fix a problem that had always been a problem and wasn't particularly worse than any number of similar problems around the world was worth alienating so many of our friends and reducing our esteem around the world. And I thought the post-war activities would be miserable in that environment.

You were right soldier. And you left out one other thing. We were not capable of fixing the situation.

But now the sentimentalization intrudes:

Once I exited the C-17, though, my views changed drastically. Particularly after meeting and befriending so many Iraqis as they, it seemed to me, woke up disoriented from a generation-long nightmare, I began to believe very deeply in the morality of what I was involved in there, if not the wisdom of the policy that brought it all about.

Hold up. It is NOT moral to adopt an unwise policy that does more harm than good even if the intention of the policy is moral. Indeed, it is IMMORAL in my view.

And this is the fundamental point. Packer wants to grasp the mantle of the "right thing to do" even if unwise. I categorically reject that. It was the wrong thing to do and not moral.

Not to accept that is to not learn from your mistakes. Packer, it seems to me, and no, I have not read his book, just his posts, has learned nothing.
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    consider also Iraq (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 08:02:20 AM EST
    the Bush Administration's fall back argument defending the Debacle is that human rights were forwarded in Iraq as a result of the invasion, even if national security was compromised.

    And, truth be told, on some level, this is true.

    But the Iraq Debacle's compromise of US security interests is NOT WORTH the gain in human rights in Iraq.

    See also this (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 08:14:00 AM EST

    The first Gulf War was a success, Scowcroft said, because the President knew better than to set unachievable goals. "I'm not a pacifist," he said. "I believe in the use of force. But there has to be a good reason for using force. And you have to know when to stop using force." Scowcroft does not believe that the promotion of American-style democracy abroad is a sufficiently good reason to use force.

    "I thought we ought to make it our duty to help make the world friendlier for the growth of liberal regimes," he said. "You encourage democracy over time, with assistance, and aid, the traditional way. Not how the neocons do it."

    Devil's Tower's simplistic analaysis does not do justice.


    I agree. How does DT miss it? (none / 0) (#4)
    by Edger on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 09:23:19 AM EST
    Dodd saying: "When you take the oath of office on January 20, you promise to do two things, and that is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and protect our country against enemies both foreign and domestic. The security of the country is number one, obviously." is a pretty clear answer to the false dichotomy of Blitzer's question. Blitzer is no idiot, and I think he expected the answer.

    I wish though that Dodd had clarified a bit further by reiterating that he thinks (I think) that the two are inseparable, and that the best way to further "national security" is by respecting and promoting human rights.


    He did (none / 0) (#6)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 09:27:35 AM EST
    I think in that very answer, but DT does not quote it.

    He did yes, as far as I'm concerned (none / 0) (#8)
    by Edger on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 09:30:21 AM EST
    I'm just slightly concerned that too many might have missed it, as DT apparently did.

    "Seeming" false dichotomy. (none / 0) (#7)
    by Edger on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 09:28:14 AM EST
    I think he was criticizing Dodd for buying into (none / 0) (#3)
    by Geekesque on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 09:19:21 AM EST
    Blitzer's forced choice and false logic.  

    What was false about it? (none / 0) (#5)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Nov 19, 2007 at 09:26:48 AM EST
    There is such a tension.

    I liked Obama's answer. It was a better answer.

    But there was nothing false about Blitzer's question.