Tuesday, August 23, 2011

stop digging, Zack

Beauchamp rebuts.

Now, if Zack is merely sore because I was being a bit of a jerk, okay. I apologize for being a bit of a jerk. I didn't, actually, mean to suggest that he is actually related to Tina Brown. (In certain technical circles, that is referred to as a "joke.") But if that was a bit too mean, fair enough. And, you know, the True Blood thing was just because he's got kind of a Cajun thing going there. I didn't even really mean it as an insult, and I do think this is more worthwhile an endeavor if you can have a little fun doing it. But names are touchy, I get that.


I have to defend myself: beyond those two things, I don't think I was engaging in name calling. I think I was forcefully replying to someone who was, to my mind, articulating bad arguments and doing so in a way that was dismissive of two bloggers who have invested considerable thought into articulating complex analyses of the Libyan situation.

For substance:
Now it should be clear from that excerpt that Matt's endorsing the Guardian article's argument that "bombing alone" will not end the Libya conflict as evidence for one of his own claim about air power. And the Guardian authors don't mean by that "bombing won't be able to produce a just post-war order" - they mean NATO will not be able to produce a military solution.
But this is precisely the point. What does "providing a military solution" even mean? Surely the military goals of ousting Qaddafi and taking Tripoli are important. But, first-- it is not clear that this has been accomplished. Does Beauchamp not think that this is a time for modesty in our descriptions of what is happening? Does he see no need for prudence in assessing a shifting and incredibly complex military situation? Events on the ground are still unfolding. What virtue is there in declaring a "win" now? I understand that politics are made of childish stuff, but there is no need for us to pretend as if the short term political consequences for Barack Obama are the most important thing, or even an important thing. And surely the kind of blogocentric axe grinding he is participating in is ultimately of little importance. If he were to stop feeling aggrieved for a moment and actually think it over he'd likely see that.

Second: what does Beauchamp think the purpose of the Libyan intervention has been? Is it merely to remove Qaddafi? Of course not. If your goal is to help Barack Obama's electoral chances, then sure, recent events in Libya are looking great. But that's not why we intervened, and it's not the reason people gave, when reading opponents of intervention like me the riot act. The reason was for the good of the Libyan people, for their safety and their freedom. So I ask Mr. Beauchamp: have the safety and freedom of the Libyan people been secured? If they haven't, then what profit is there in responding with such glee towards a temporary and conditional military victory? Beauchamp accused me of merely calling names when I said that he was unconcerned with the plight of the Libyans. But he is proving that point again today; he cares entirely about whether he can use Libya as a cudgel against people he disagrees with and seemingly not at all about whether this will result in a Libya that is safer and freer for most Libyan people. My point is simply that a true concern for Libya just has to compel someone to refrain from declaring victory, as recent history has shown time and again that short term military success and long term humanitarian success are very different things.
Today he's unleashed a rather more disappointing argument. See:
Will everyone who said that liberal interventionists "lost all credibility" after the Iraq War, and hence should never be listened to again, renounce their own credibility after predicting Qaddafi would fall? I'm not holding my breath, but I really hope pundits will think twice about essentially calling for other writers to be shunned by all right-thinking people based on one data point. Let's judge ideas on their merit, not the identity of the person propounding them. 
I hope Zack is aware that all the terrible shit went down in Iraq after Bagdhad fell. I mean goodness gracious. This thoroughly misses the point. The large majority of critics of intervention weren't criticizing out of a conviction that the rebels had no chance to win. (I'd appreciate links if he thinks they were!) Rather, they were pointing out that military superiority can lead to lots of destruction but is often entirely incapable of reaching satisfying conclusions for peace and democracy. You can check my own record if you want: the concern has always been equally about what happens after the fall of Qaddafi. Beauchamp seems supremely confident that he has identified the good guys and the bad guys in the Libyan. But actual human life does not operate that way. Witness Kosovo:
But Kouchner quickly discovered that victims could be very bad. There was an extraordinary range of ethnic groups in Kosovo.

There were:
Muslim Albanians
Orthodox Serbs
Roman Catholic Serbs
Serbian-speaking Muslim Egyptians
Albanian-speaking Muslim Gypsies - Ashkalis
Albanian-speaking Christian Gypsies - Goranis
And even - Pro-Serbian Turkish-speaking Turks

They all had vendettas with each other - which meant that they were both victims and horrible victimizers at the same time.

It began to be obvious that getting rid of evil didn't always lead to the simple triumph of goodness.
I have a distinct lack of regard for Muamar Qaddafi and a serious moral and political investment in the idea of revolution. But I can't pretend that this revolution will not devolve into civil war, or lead to a new repressive regime, or collapse the state, or whatever else.
What is so disturbing and so disappointing about Beauchamp's posts today is that he seems to have missed the important point of all of us: if the goal is not to reach short-term military victories, which as any gloss of recent history will show do not always lead to humanitarian gains, but rather to achieve lasting improvements in the well-being and freedom of the Libyan people, then there is nothing yet to celebrate. History is riddled with new orders which ended up just as bad as the first. What makes me deeply uncomfortable with Beauchamp's commentary is that he doesn't even seem to realize that military victory doesn't lead inevitably to humanitarian benefit; or that short term successes can become long term failures; or that oppressed people can turn very quickly into oppressors; or that at the most basic and elementary level, the Libyan conflict is not resolved at all.

I have advice. Here is a response from Daniel Larison that should serve as a model for Beauchamp. It is, typical of Larison, measured and supported by evidence. Again, Beauchamp was mocking Yglesias and Larison for predictions that they themselves weren't making. They were reporting on and responding to the predictions of NATO officials, and the frequently confused positions of the Libyan rebels themselves. As Larison says in his own defense, he was merely echoing Admiral Mike Mullen. Does Beauchamp think that he was in better position to speak on the matter than Admiral Mullen at the time Larison made the original comments? I said that Beauchamp was being dishonest by acting as if Larison and Yglesias were making these predictions in a vaccuum, rather than responding to the statements of senior military officials and political figures. I firmly stand by that opinion.

Incidentally:


I know that the point here is that he didn't, actually, feel bad about my criticism. Fair enough. For what it's worth, I am sorry if Beauchamp felt personally affronted. The point was not that "I don't like him very much," as I hope is clear. I would remind him that he is writing on one of the most popular, influential, and powerful blogs on the Internet. Criticism should and will come.

19 comments:

Josh said...

Actually, his intended point is that he didn't feel bad about your criticism, but generally, one does not issue sarcastic retorts in public forums if one isn't at least a little stung.

PithLord said...

If you are in favour of revolution, then don't you need to acknowledge that whatever bad things might happen in Libya right now are always going to be possible after a revolution? And if those risks weren't worth taking in Libya after four decades of erratic, corrupt and autocratic rule, when are they worth taking?

Freddie said...

Exactly this, PithLord-- risks are or are not worth taking by Libyan people. Not by NATO. Not by American. The value of acts has everything to do with actors. Everything.

Ken Hoop said...

Dreyfuss at Nation tells who's war it is today.

banflaw said...

perhaps it is the conviction of every age that it has chanced upon the definitive method of truth-finding. if i am certain of anything though i am certain that the later methods of later ages will prevent them from looking upon ours as definitive, any more than we could indulge the defunct procedures of the scholastics.

and to what, after all, could we think of having recourse against these newer men, but our own panoptic method?

Anonymous said...

I thought the True Blood joke was funny.

Adrian

PithLord said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
PithLord said...

risks are or are not worth taking by Libyan people. Not by NATO. Not by American.

That position makes sense coming from Larison. Not so much from an alleged Marxist.

The Libyan people took the risks. I hardly think you can criticize them for that. NATO evened out some of Gaddhafi's technological and organizational advantage.

Roland Dodds said...

"Exactly this, PithLord-- risks are or are not worth taking by Libyan people. Not by NATO. Not by American. The value of acts has everything to do with actors. Everything."

You must have missed the part where the Libyan rebels asked for assistance from the international community. Assistance that surely turned the tide in their favor and slowed the slaughter and attacks by Gadaffi forces.

What does an indigenous fight against Gadaffi look like to you Freddie? Are the people of Libya who put themselves on the line not Libyan enough because they asked for and received assistance form elsewhere? It seems to me like they have every right to expect and demand help from nations and people who claim to support the idea's behind their struggle.

Freddie said...

I wrote at considerable length on these issues when the conflict began. And, as it happens, I am not a Marxist.

Camels With Hammers said...

Freddie you spent the whole post making unnecessary charges that he was trying to curry favor with his boss by doing dishonest work that would pander to him, that he was unqualified to dare criticize such learned people as Larison and Yglesias, that he is completely unqualified for his job, and that he doesn't care at all about oppressed people.

Those are aggressive character and legitimacy attacks. And you think it's supposed to be clear that is nothing personal? You think the only places where you were a "bit" of a jerk were the Tina Brown and True Blood teases which he took in stride with return jokes? You think he was sensitive about THOSE things which he responded to with playful jokes back? Not all the stuff where he has a callous indifference to the plight of Libyans or the stuff where he is a hack sucking up to his boss and trivializing important world events to do it?

Wow.

It's one thing to sanctimoniously assault someone's character in public (sometimes it's got to be done---whether or not Zack Beauchamp in particular really deserves it. Maybe you should take on Andrew for giving Beauchamp a platform you don't think he deserves, rather than blame him for inexperienced judgment). But to me not even to realize what your character assassinations were shows some troubling lack of self-awareness and blitheness about one's own ability to be cruel.

Freddie said...

Freddie you spent the whole post making unnecessary charges that he was trying to curry favor with his boss

No, I didn't.

by doing dishonest work that would pander to him

Yes, I do think his work was dishonest.

that he was unqualified to dare criticize such learned people as Larison and Yglesias,

I said nothing remotely like that. If you think I'm inclined to argue that people should defer to those with greater institutional authority in the blogosphere, you frankly know nothing about my work here. I do think that he is engaging snarkily and without substance against two writers who deployed considerable substance in writing about Libya.

that he is completely unqualified for his job,

In fact I said exactly the opposite at the end of the post.

and that he doesn't care at all about oppressed people.

My argument is that those who are declaring victory now can't possibly actually care about the Libyan people because what is best for them is not remotely settled. Those that do care will wait to see the situation for the security and freedom of the Libyans in the longer term.

It's one thing to sanctimoniously assault someone's character in public

In a forum of ideas, character springs from ideas. I don't do what most people do and dance around, pretending like my criticisms make no statement whatsoever about the intellectual integrity of the person being criticized. If you want that kind of dishonesty, try almost any other blog.

(sometimes it's got to be done---whether or not Zack Beauchamp in particular really deserves it. Maybe you should take on Andrew for giving Beauchamp a platform you don't think he deserves,
rather than blame him for inexperienced judgment).


If the intimation is that I don't criticize Andrew Sullivan, you can check my record on that. Beauchamp was published, professionally, on one of the largest and most influential political platforms on the entire Internet. He has to be held accountable for what he says just like anybody else. I don't find this line of inquiry particularly flattering for Beauchamp.

But to me not even to realize what your character assassinations were shows some troubling lack of self-awareness and blitheness about one's own ability to be cruel.

Character assassination, properly performed, should stick to character. My arguments were about his arguments. Cruelty doesn't factor into it. A guy who is being paid real money in the most prosperous nation on earth to blog about Libya has no access to cruelty. Go to Tripoli if you're looking for cruelty.

redscott said...

When are we going to recognize our own lack of entitlement to meddle in the affairs of others, coupled with our utter lack of knowledge and competence in the business of reorganizing their societies? Yes, we can swat aside the military of a third world country and depose a badly dressed strongman. How this is supposed to advance our concrete interests or make the lives of Libyans better is something no one has explained with any degree of frankness or specificity. I don't support bombing another country based on a hope that "God willing, things will work out," because such an approach is both immoral and stupid.

Anonymous said...

beachamp has so much potential and the balls to make big changes. i believe that you are a little jealous.

redscott said...

Balls is a good way of describing his arguments.

PithLord said...

Sorry for calling you a Marxist. I recall you referring to yourself as one once. No offence intended.

If you don't want to argue about responsibility-to-protect and the moral obligations of imperial powers capable of protecting justified revolutions, then that's fine. I'm not really interested in Zack Beauchamp. I agree those "Awards" are silly, although I suppose they could be defended on the grounds they are *obviously* silly.

Freddie said...

I don't know how you can praise someone's balls when they are taking advantage of a high profile forum that they did nothing themselves to build.

gold wow said...

Just in case some of those hazards are not price having Libya subsequently 40 years associated with wandering, sully and tyrannical pattern, when ever are they value pickings?

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