Monday, August 22, 2011

so which of Tina Brown's relatives is Zack Beauchamp?

I don't have time right today to go over the Libya magnum opus of one Zack Beauchamp (which is not, to my surprise, the name of a character on True Blood), but I will try to get to it soon. Spoilers: Beauchamp is one of those quiet Americans who thinks that if you wave vaguely in the direction of that oh-so-democratic-and-corruption-free UN you can essentially make a PowerPoint of every column Bill Kristol's written since 1998 and not get called a neocon. The whole thing deserves a real looksee-- this is, I assure, uncommonly terrible Internet commentary-- but given time constraints I just want to defend a couple bloggers.

One of the many reasons to be skeptical of the Dish's awards is that they encourage the kind of distorting category-ticking, context and argument-free "opinion through aggregation" that can make even the most thoughtful blog stupid and churlish. So see Beauchamp's two "Van Hoffman Award" winners for today, which celebrate bad predictions.

First, Matt Yglesias:

"Strategic air power still doesn't really work. Will airpower advocates ever learn?"

Well, OK, actually, no. When I copy and paste Matt's quote, it shows up like this:

Strategic Air Power Still Doesn’t Really Work

Will air power advocates ever learn?


That's because what is being quoted here is actually the title of a post and the first line of a post. You wouldn't know that from reading Beauchamp's "award," but then that is of course the point of having this whole awards construction in the first place: it hides all that lame "intellectual honesty" business. Now, if one of my students cited something this way, I'd mark it wrong and make them fix it before I graded the paper. But perhaps such pedantry is really only appropriate when I'm actually being employed as a pedant.

No, the really galling thing here is that this bad prediction supposedly made by Matt is in fact from a 65-word post, more than half of which is a quote. That quote, meanwhile, is itself from the Guardian referring to anonymous military sources in the British military and NATO apparatus. In other words, the people actually making this asserted (but not remotely proven) bad prediction aren't Matt Yglesias, as would be clear to absolutely anyone who bothered to click through to the link. It's like a "Von Hoffman by convoluted proxy" award winner. Of course, Beauchamp is counting on most of Andrew's readers to not click the link, and he's right to assume that most won't.

Now, far be it from me to make Yglesias's argument for him. In fact, I don't have to, as he's written on strategic air power on several occasions. Not in short, off-the-cuff quotes of news reports like what is linked to here, but in substantive posts-- the kind with actual arguments that you actually have to rebut, rather than hide behind a fatuous and tired awards gimmick and the considerable institutional authority of a blog whose reputation you've done nothing to build. Here's a briefer one regarding Iraq and the fact that the media-ready good appearances of lower US casualties meant little for achieving the strategic aims of the Iraq campaign. If I would put my own gloss on it, I would say that Matt consistently argues that strategic air power is fine for blowing shit up but very limited in achieving the large host of strategic and diplomatic goals we tend to have in foreign affairs. That attitude has not been remotely challenged by recent events. Blowing the shit out of Qaddafi's military is the easy part. Building a democratic society, a humanitarian success, and a functioning post-Qaddafi civic infrastructure is what actually matters. This argument has the nontrivial benefits of being accurate, demonstrable through historical evidence (Dear Zack: Vietnam was a real thing!) and intellectually and ethically modest. But like I said. Argument=hard, played out Internet award meme=easy.

I'm afraid Beauchamp gave a second award, this one to Daniel Larison.

"We are no closer to finding a means by which Gaddafi would be forced to 'go' than we were four months ago."

First, tell Zack Beaucamp with my love and a kiss that if he is ever in possession of a tenth of the understanding of foreign policy and military affairs that Daniel Larison enjoys, he'll have reason for pride. This one at least meets the minimal standard of quoting someone who was not himself quoting someone else. It also seems to represent an actual prediction! Unfortunately for Beauchamp, it also contains some significant historical context and consideration of complex and nuanced recent events, which Beauchamp has not deigned to access today.
The rebels now say that the offer for Gaddafi to remain in Libya after stepping down has “expired,” which raises the question why it was ever made at all. It’s an odd bit of timing for them to extend the offer, wait until both Britain and France have endorsed the idea, and then withdraw it after Britain and France exposed themselves to no end of ridicule for having entertained the idea.
 In case it isn't clear, Larison is here reacting to an actual overture made by the actual Libyan rebels, which seemed then and seems now like a curious and out of character move that suggested conflicting principles within that organization. This post (which is about a month old) is trying to make some sense of a rebel movement which has at times operated in the peculiar way that large, shaggy, and complex military groups do when they lack clear leadership, unanimity of principles, and clearly articulated political goals. Now, I wouldn't put this particular maneuver on equal footing with their history of assassinating one of their own generals or targeting sub-Saharan Africans as Qaddafi's mercenaries without evidence (little bits of nuance that escape the commentary of Mr. Beauchamp), but I think Daniel had a right to read about this information and question their capacity to take Tripoli, or even their will to.

Or here's this from Daniel:
As a matter of protecting the civilian population, the Libyan war was already lost shortly after it went from being a defensive operation to protect rebel-held areas to a campaign to topple Gaddafi, so it’s not clear what “finishing the job” could mean under the circumstances.
The operative distinction here being that Daniel Larison has long demonstrated that he actually cares about the material conditions of the lives of actual Libyans, and that he is possessed of a discriminating refusal to quickly describe actors or events as good or bad out of the sensible logic that these events take time to unspool. I don't doubt that in some vague undergraduate sense Zack Beauchamp wants nothing but the best for the Libyan people, but I have to tell you that it is likely just this simplistic: he probably imagines that there is some such thing as "nothing but the best," that it can be achieved here on earth by us fragile mortals without trampling the autonomy or rights of Qaddafi loyalists, and that he is in possession of such wisdom that he can know it when he sees it and bestow that vision upon the Libyan people. I have said it before and I will say it again: the surest, quickest test of whether someone genuinely cares for the well-being of innocent Libyan people lies in whether he or she is willing to wait beyond the news cycle and the election cycle to see what the long-term prognosis is. I don't begrudge the right of American people to view Libyan events through an American lens, but the Dish's focus on Libya's consequences for Barack Obama has been a little ugly.

Incidentally-- some might take from my post title that I am arguing that Beauchamp is unworthy of working at the Dish. Well, worthiness doesn't mean what it once did in blogging, but in any event, rest assured: I'm sure Beauchamp has a fine resume and a very shiny degree. He's likely a young guy and will have lots of opportunities. But he's compounded the sin of his adherence to what is in my view a very reductive view of the world with a flatly distorting attack on two bloggers who deserved better. He should reconsider.

10 comments:

  1. Vietnam was an actual thing. All else ...

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  2. "I don't have time right today to go over the Libya magnum opus of one Zack Beauchamp (which is not, to my surprise, the name of a character on True Blood), but I will try to get to it soon."

    Son, that tactic is straight from the "Book of Cop-outs to Cover My Backside and the Posteriors of My Pals".

    Either you have game - or you don't.

    Either you have a counter-argument(s) or you don't.

    Either you're willing to do the work necessary to explain yourself in full and defend your allies in full or you don't.

    Time has nothing to do with it - unless, of course, you're on talk radio and it's time to hawk gold.

    Matt Yglesias and Daniel Larison had their errors in prognostication and policy brought out for the readers of The Dish yesterday. More's the pity that the website does not exist to chart each and every one of the statements, predictions, and commentary of the pundit class. Then, we might just be able to decide who's worth his/her weight in spit and who's work deserves only to be spread on the South 40 of one's choosing.

    Yglesias and Larison screwed up on Libya. Sort of like McCain and Graham - save the fact that Yglesias and Larison, unlike the senators of spin, come from vastly different sides of the political aisle.

    My question is, why are you defending them? Is this some sort of Punditry Pals platitude? Makes no sense - unless you simply refuse to allow readers to see the inaccuracies of Yglesias and Larison on this issue by doing little more than smearing the blogger who brought their miscues to light.

    P.S. Anonymous for no other reason than I need another Internet password about as much as Yglesias and Larison need another prediction about NATO in Libya.

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  3. Son, that tactic is straight from the "Book of Cop-outs to Cover My Backside and the Posteriors of My Pals".

    Friend, that tired idiom is older than the Internet. Develop your own style, or stop trying so desperately to write with style.

    Either you have a counter-argument(s) or you don't.

    Indeed. And, you know, I laid it out for the two posts I'm talking about in this piece. In a future piece, I will get to Beauchamp's terrible, no good, very bad opinions on foreign policy. This here is my shop. I run it how and when I please. It happens to be the first week of a new semester. But I don't really need any excuse. This is my place and I do as I want.

    Matt Yglesias and Daniel Larison had their errors in prognostication and policy brought out for the readers of The Dish yesterday.

    No, they had their words misrepresented by a far less skilled writer who was trying to score cheap points with his boss by writing something that contributes to the cult of Obama.

    Yglesias and Larison screwed up on Libya. Sort of like McCain and Graham - save the fact that Yglesias and Larison, unlike the senators of spin, come from vastly different sides of the political aisle.

    If you just care about politics, maybe Libya is a "win." If you care about Libyans, it's absurd to pass any judgment at all yet.

    My question is, why are you defending them? Is this some sort of Punditry Pals platitude?

    You should probably read more than just one blog. If you did, you'd know that this is a pretty funny accusation of me regarding Matt Yglesias.

    P.S. Anonymous for no other reason than I need another Internet password about as much as Yglesias and Larison need another prediction about NATO in Libya.

    Son, that tactic is straight from the "Book of Cop-outs to Cover My Backside and the Posteriors of My Pals".

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  4. Anonymous misses the point. Larison and Yglesias aren't wrong about Libya. Their primary concern was about our meddling in the internal affairs of a country that hadn't done us any harm and with which we'd reached a peaceful resolution of our differences 8 years before. They weren't invested in whether or not that improper intervention was "successful" in deposing the current regime; they were very interested in pointing out that the intervention was wrong and that its proponents had woefully little insight into what the intervention would lead to for the people of Libya themselves, many of whom have died either at our hands or because of a bitter civil war. None of this is wrong, and reducing all of this to a tribal win-win scenario is simplistic bullshit.

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  5. Beauchamp is a disaster for the Dish, and unfortunately 2-3 of the other munchkins are pretty bad too. It's a real shame, but the place has gone downhill.

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  6. Even from the passages you quote, it was clear that non-interventionists were making two parallel points: (1) That the Libyan operation is not the best way to provide for the long-term safety and security of the Libyan people; (2) That the Libyan operation (or strategic air power) would not be successful in deposing Qaddafi. While the first point is very likely to be correct, the second was an unnecessarily greedy way of saying "You're wrong on my terms and even on your terms" and had the potential to do serious self-harm to the whole argument.

    Beauchamp is doing all of us a favor by pointing this out, as it will hopefully keep non-interventionists from making such parallel, pure-military-power predictions in the future and significantly sharpen their argument.

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  7. "This here is my shop. I run it how and when I please."

    Standard Internet Dodge.

    You caught me being lazy and posting a lame ass excuse. Rather than owning up to my responsibilities as a blogger, I deem this my territory and threaten you with punishment/censorship unless you stop typing and obey my polemic.

    "No, they had their words misrepresented by a far less skilled writer..."

    And the skills of said writer and yourself have been determined by whom? By what objective measure(s)? Your mother telling you that you are the best, most-talented writer on the planet does not qualify here, boss.

    "If you just care about politics, maybe Libya is a "win." If you care about Libyans, it's absurd to pass any judgment at all yet."

    I don't care about Libya or Libyans. I also don't give a damn about Boston Red Sox fans (and, no, I'm not a Yankees' fan) or devotees of Dancing With The Imbeciles. And, yes, it's too damn soon to determine winners and losers in Libya. Tell me something I don't know. Show me some of the skill that's drawn your mother's praise. Educate me, son. Inform me.

    "You should probably read more than just one blog."

    I read several blogs on both sides of the political aisle. I also know that bloggers stick together much in the same way that the Georgetown-Hamptons Cocktail Club known as the D.C.-Big Apple media stands up for each other. It's fine if one of your own pisses on the other, but far be it from a mere reader to question the efforts of a blogger or Cocktail Club member. That's just not allowed. So save me the line about how you're opposed in policy and politics to Matthew. You, and any other blogger, would defend that poor boy against the "evil" readership every day of the week and twice on Fridays.

    "It happens to be the first week of a new semester. But I don't really need any excuse."

    First, then why did you make an excuse?

    Second, for someone who's too busy to write a full, intelligent post due to the "first week of a new semester", you sure as hell had a lot of time to write a litany of excuses, half-truths, lame defenses, and mama-based literary judgment to little ole' me.

    Wonder what you could do if you dumped the excuses, ditched mama as your P.R. agent, and actually wrote a full post to counter the kid at The Atlantic. But why bother? It's just so damned easy to toss out crap, call it gold, and threaten to censor the comments of someone who calls you on it.

    Chump.

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  8. redscott,

    I agree with a great deal of your response.

    To which I can only offer a four-letter word:

    I-R-A-Q

    Does it really surprise you that after one president spins us into a meaningless, extremely costly in life, limb, and money folly in one nation that did nothing to us, the ensuing president would do much the same perhaps for little more than the purpose of re-election?

    At least, Libya hasn't taken eight years.

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  9. All this macho bloviation doesn't change the fact that both Larison and Yglesias blew it badly on Libya. Trying to cover for their asses because one sympathizes with their rational only shows how attractive rationales can blind people to reality.

    Larison in particular is guilty of simply falling in love with his own notion that all foreign interventions are stupid, counter-productive, and end badly for all. He begins with that assumption, rather than arriving at it based on the facts and evidence, and when it turns against him claims that it's not his fault, since other people made the same mistake.

    Yglesias is also addicted to certain doctrines, such as that air power can't do shit, which are obviously false and setting up straw men. Theory is always trumped by facts on the ground, and the facts on the ground are that air power worked very well in Libya. Quibbling over whether it was strategic or tactical is just pointless. He badly misjudged the situation, because he wasn't actually judging the situation at all, but only some general category he actually knows very little about. Same with Larison for that matter. It's another example of doctrinal purity blinding smart people to the reality of a particular situation, because they are so wedded to their doctrine. Not much different from the neocons who led us into Iraq, actually, except for the consequences.

    And Sullivan is largely guilty of the same crime, using every chance he got over the last four months to make it seem like the Libya war was going badly and hopelessly messed up. He should get his own Von Hoffman award, if his underbloggers had any guts.

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