by Jeremy Young | 11/01/2007 05:12:00 PM
Watch this video and tell me your impressions:

What's fascinating to me about this debate is who the players are. Mike Huckabee, while a far-right Dominionist, is not in any way a neoconservative; similarly, Ron Paul is a fierce antiwar activist but not in any sense a "liberal." Additionally, both men are extremely well-spoken; Paul is a veteran of national campaigns, while Huckabee is trained as a minister.

So what you basically get is a debate that is refreshingly devoid of war talking points on either side, and that in my view much more closely approximates the actual debate that is playing out on the streets and in the homes of America, but amplified by added eloquence. To me, this video ably encapsulates the current debate over the Iraq War.

What are your thoughts? Use this as an open thread.

Update I've added my own brief thoughts over the flip.

Huckabee's discussion of national "honor" (think Bertram Wyatt-Brown's books on "Southern honor," a similar concept) is an idea that most scholars would agree is outdated, but Huckabee's comments remind us that many Americans continue to believe in it. The key here is that Huckabee's response to the conflict is an essentially theoretical one about honor, while Paul's response is a humanistic one, about saving lives. That's a shocking switch given that Paul is a well-known ideologue who opposes federal funding for Katrina victims because it goes against his libertarian principles, while Huckabee's campaign is based on the "fundamental" principle of "celebrat[ing] life". I guess that for Paul, sometimes human suffering trumps ideology, and that for Huckabee, sometimes ideology trumps human suffering.

By the way, I really like both of these men, even though I find many positions of both men unpalatable and, in the case of Huckabee's young-earth Creationism, bordering on insanity. I like the way they respect the American people enough to provide them with comprehensive visions for what America should look like. I'd give all our current candidates for one liberal version of either of these guys.



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Blogger Ahistoricality on 11/01/2007 9:57 PM:

I'm sorry, but I don't see how Huckabee's statements qualify as anything other than platitudes and talking points. "Honor" doesn't mean "victory": Even if we "win" (whatever that means these days), we as a nation are a long way from doing so with anything resembling honor. Individual soldiers will have to evaluate the honor of their service by themselves (or let military tribunals do it for them). Huckabee's homey version of the "Pottery Barn Rule" (which never applied at Pottery Barn, etc., etc.) has been deconstructed by better bloggers than I: If you break something, they don't let you sit around in the store and try to fix it; they sweep up the pieces, give them to you if you want it, run your credit card and kick you out so you can't break anything else. A literal reading -- and this administration has a way of leaving its secrets in the open because nobody would believe it anyway -- would suggest that the "if you broke it, you bought it" rule implies that our policy is actually moving towards outright colonialism. Having succeeded in destroying its government, economy and civil society, it's ours, unless they can put themselves together again and kick us out.

The honorable thing to do at this point would be to give up our failed attempt to suppress violence and control Iraqi politics, focus on building regional support and infrastructure reconstruction, and get our soldiers the hell out of there.


Blogger Bastoche on 11/02/2007 12:04 AM:

I’m pretty much with Ahistoricality on this one. Huckabee is using a simple but well-crafted little narrative that has great emotional appeal and that the Republican nominee (Rudy or Mitt) will likely trot out repeatedly. The reason we went into Iraq doesn’t matter, Huckabee claims. We went in and made a mess, and we must now do the honorable thing and stay in until we clean it up. Withdrawing the troops would be irresponsible and dishonorable, like a kid slinking away from the toy he handled and broke in a store.

Huckabee is targeting two segments of the audience. The first, the segment that the Republicans have locked up, connects honor to the warrior ideal. We cannot leave the field of battle until we gain victory. Defeat is not an option, not for America. Since, as Huckabee claims, the surge is working, to cravenly slink away now would allow victory to slip from our grasp and subject America to a needless humiliation.

But the other segment that Huckabee is targeting is one that connects honor to personal responsibility. That segment of the audience is not concerned with the humiliation of an American defeat but with the consequences of an American withdrawal. If we leave before we establish peace, the sectarians and the terrorists will continue to inflict violence on innocent and peaceful Iraqis. If we can prevent that violence, since we’re to a great extent the cause of it, we must do so. To stay, therefore, is the decent and honorable thing to do.

This segment of the audience is one that I think the Democrats have a chance of winning—if they counter effectively Huckabee’s manipulative little story. And they can counter it effectively, I think, if they shift the discussion of honor away from military methods and military results.

When Huckabee argues that we must stay in Iraq until we clean up the mess he is implying that we have the power to clean it up. We have, that is, the military power to impose on the situation the solution we want, to quell the violence caused by sectarians and terrorists and give the Iraqi factions the necessary space in which to reconcile. Since we have that power—the surge, remember, is working—walking away from Iraq is irresponsible and dishonorable, squandering our success and exposing innocent Iraqis to the violence of terrorists and sectarians.

The Democratic nominee needs to respond to this argument without flinching. The sectarian strife between the Shia and the Sunni has a long and complex history, and we do not have the power to impose on it a solution of our devising. We cannot, by the application of military power, force them to reconcile within a frame of time that is convenient to our geopolitical interests. Only they have the power to reconcile, and they will do it within a period of time over which we have no control. We must therefore admit a simple fact: American military power has its limits. And we must accept the simple consequence of this simple fact: American troops must come home.

But to that segment of Huckabee’s audience that connects honor to responsibility, bringing the troops home would be tantamount to skulking away from the mess we ourselves created. What the Democratic nominee has to do is convincingly argue that removing the troops is not walking away from our responsibility to the Iraqis. Huckabee implies that the only way we have of asserting our presence in Iraq is by means of the military. It is not. America can also assert its presence by means of diplomacy and economic aid. Diplomatic engagement and economic aid will not magically eliminate sectarian strife, but they can, far more effectively than a misbegotten counterinsurgency plan, help the Sunni and the Shia achieve some measure of reconciliation. We can therefore both remove the troops and discharge our responsibility. We can, that is, do the really honorable thing: admit the limits of our military power, bring the troops home, and redirect our energy and resources to the two fronts that have the power to do some genuine good, diplomatic persuasion and economic aid.

Will the Democratic nominee (Obama or Hillary) so argue? I doubt it. The liberal interventionists will likely convince the nominee to take the easy way out and commit to maintaining tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for an indeterminate period. And such a military presence, I think, will detrimentally affect diplomatic maneuverings, not only with Iraqi factions but with Iran.


Blogger Jeremy Young on 11/02/2007 1:21 AM:

Guys, I'm not saying I agree with Huckabee, or that his answers aren't platitudes. My point is that I think they have more to do with the opinion of the average war supporter in the population than does the official line out of Washington. The official line is "we should stay because we're winning, really we are." I don't think most supporters really believe that; their interest in staying in the was is what Huckabee's talking about -- for our own honor, and, as Bastoche puts it, the "warrior ideal."

I do hope the Dems effectively dissect this meme, but if they do, they couldn't do a better job than Ron Paul did in that debate.


Blogger Ahistoricality on 11/02/2007 4:13 AM:

I'm sorry, Jeremy, but you described the exchange as "a debate that is refreshingly devoid of war talking points on either side" and that's not what either of us are seeing.

I think you're right, to some extent, about the degree to which it reflects the discussions going on in the wider world, though Paul's position is closer to most Democrats (not necessarily Democratic candidates, mind you) than most Republicans.

I used to be one of those "we invaded, so we have a responsibility to help stabilize and rebuild" sorts. International law and all that stuff. But everything we touch, we destroy. It's better if this administration tries to do as little as possible, honestly. (New slogan for libertarians: "Republicans: the best argument against government")


Blogger Jeremy Young on 11/02/2007 5:42 PM:

It's a semantic argument; "war talking points" means to me "the official line from the White House and from antiwar activists." I'm not trying to define myself out of a pickle; rather, I was in the pickle in the first place because I was imprecise in my language.

Because what I was trying to say is exactly what you've said in this comment.


Blogger Ralph Brauer on 11/03/2007 10:34 PM:

Fascinating, but there are more nuances to this. Honor IS an important concept. Where I believe Huckabee goes astray is to equate the military concept of honor with a civilian or universal one. Note the spot in his speech where he pointedly refers to McCain's MILITARY service.

The military believe that honor means you fulfill all lawful missions to the best of your ability until told otherwise. That's what people get the aptly named Medal of Honor for.

Where the ethics get mixed up is to extend this to civilians or the entire country. Just because a soldier is in a war fulfilling his or her duty does not mean we cannot decide that our honor requires we end this thing.

The third ethical mess Huckabee gets himself into is to imply that the military concept of honor also applies to our relationship to the people of Iraq. First, it is clear there is so such entity as "the people of Iraq." So how can we "honor" something that does not exist? Second, in this case, as in the first, the military concept of honor does not apply.

What is curious to me is that the standard pro-war line has been that if we withdraw, Iraq will become a "bloodbath." If GOP candidates now are backing off that argument, it promises to be an interesting year, because based on reports I have heard from Iraq (example, fascinating interview--I believe on the BBC-- with the NPR bureau chief in Baghdad) that still could happen.

The whole point in all this that has been made far too many times and still not answered is: What is our measurable objective in Iraq? How will we know that our mission has been fulfilled? This is what is driving the returning troops I know crazy.

It is here that both parties and their candidates are doing the American people--and those in Iraq--a huge disservice. The Democrats are arguing about dates, but what do those dates signify? Otherwise just pick one. Until SOMEONE has the courage to say this is what my OBJECTIVES are for Iraq in terms of real goals this mess will continue to be a mess.

Anyone that can predict where this mess will be in six months has a better crystal ball than I do.