Thursday, April 12, 2007

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True or false?

I'm conferencing tomorrow, so blogging will likely be light.

Talk amongs yourselves. Here's an interesting question, from this Peter Suderman post at NRO's Corner:

[T]he war is a major dividing issue in our country right now. It’s going to be tough to reach even a rough national consensus on it no matter what, but that we can’t even agree on who to trust for information—and, as a result, what’s actually happening—only makes things more difficult.
Question #1: Is Suderman correct in his assessment?

Question #2: if Suderman is correct, then how can any useful policy be formulated?

posted by Dan on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM


Suderman is not correct. Polls like the one Pew did are lagging indicators; they reflect respondents' reaction to events in the context of recent political controversies. In other words, they show us where we have been, not where we are going.

Over six years into the administration of a President who has consistently rung changes on the chords defining the lowest common denominator of Republican politics -- suspicion of liberals and the media -- it shouldn't be surprising that polls would reflect Republicans' suspicion of liberals and the media. The absence of any prominent Republican voices pushing hard against President Bush reinforces Republican poll respondents' inclination to believe that the media is treating him unfairly, a factor I believe is overlooked in most discussions of this subject.

The weight of events will sooner or later make itself felt in public opinion. The danger for the Republican Party is that by the time this happens events will have headed in a direction that will lead non-Republicans to associate the party with indifference to developments they see as disastrous. Though things are unlikely to get to the point they had by the end of the Hoover administration -- the country and its people are not anywhere near as badly off now as they were then -- there is a difference only in degree, not in kind, between that earlier collapse in Republican identification and what the party could be facing as the Bush administration nears its end.

posted by: Zathras on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM [permalink]

There already is a rough national consensus on the Iraq war, at least for the country at large. Pull troops out and drastically decrease our involvement. That's supported by large margins in the polls.

The problem is that this measure is not supported by the foreign policy apparatus or by large sections of the government - specifically the White House and 49 senators. To their number you can add the editorial boards of the Washington Post and much of the punditocracy.

So the real question is how to force these people to accept the position of the demos.

posted by: franck on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM [permalink]

Suderman is wrong in saying that the issue is "who to trust for information" -- that was a problem at the outset, but now the issue, quibbles aside, is interpretation of the facts. The Tet Offensive was almost 40 years ago, and there is still debate over whether that was "really" a discrediting defeat for the US, or a missed opportunity for victory.

Useful policy can be formulated when we get some leadership that takes its best shot at formulating useful policy, as opposed to stalling around until the responsibility can be passed to the next administration.

posted by: mr punch on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM [permalink]

Of course Suderman is correct. Nobody should get their Iraq information from the MSM, which is shallow, biased and agenda-driven. And yet, most people do - and we see the results in the polling on Iraq. How good policy can ever be made in that atmosphere escapes me.

posted by: A.S. on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM [permalink]

There is a consensus, but there is also a minority that insist on learning the wrong lesson from history and remain in denial.

posted by: Lord on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM [permalink]

Not to dispute the limitations and problems with the MSM, but where else should consumers go to get information? More specifically, where should voters evaluating what policy should be undertaken go for both data and analysis?

I am a fan of Michael Yon's work - but his perspective does not really help determine when, how, and under what conditions American involvement should be increased, decreased, or maintained at current levels. While I agree with Juan Cole's political orientation I can't really trust him as every event for four years has been spun in just one direction. The efforts by Malkin and others to go out and get information have been less than unimpressive - laughable, really.

At this point the administration and the 28 percenters have cynically disengaged from the MSM and are relying on an echo chamber of news and analysis from Fox News and Washington Times. They have chosen to block themselves off from any news and analysis that does not support their already determined policies. It is no surprise that they are unable to develop a new policy or approach.

posted by: Xenos on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM [permalink]

This truly is surreal, but let's just take it point by point.

The war is a major dividing issue in our country right now.

And to think it's been 5 years since Rove's powerpoint presentation, "The Strategic Landscape" was leaked; "Focus on War". Then in November of 2002 we saw the most blatant use of the impending war as a huge wedge to produce Republican congressional gains. Just take any sampling of republican information - posts from blogs, press releases, whatever - and "support" for the war and how evil the dems are for not doing so is omnipresent. Heck, McCain - the once and future candidate - is making the war his entire platform.

That this war is a major dividing issue is due to explicit calculation on the right.

It’s going to be tough to reach even a rough national consensus on it no matter what

What planet is he living on? Doesn't poll after poll tell us that the majority of Americans want us to leave? Regardless of whether that's a path we should take, it seems pretty clear that saying "it will be tough to reach a national consensus" seems to fly right in the face of empirical data available to anyone. Let's just flip this on its head and ask is there any evidence that there isn't a national consensus already? Be very interesting to see the evidence presented for that.

but that we can’t even agree on who to trust for information

Well, considering that it's his job to undermine the trust of news organization, this is almost a joke. Regardless, the fact that we can't agree on who to trust is irrelevant to gathering information. People can mistrust each other's information sources and strangely come to the same conclusions about objective reality. People mistrust sources and trust others for very complex reasons. The fact that you don't trust mine doesn't mean we can't come to consensus. This is just a silly statement.

—and, as a result, what’s actually happening—only makes things more difficult.

Again, this is pretty darn laughable given that his party line is completely dependent on the idea that we can't trust any information source. It's just like global warming. The entire argument simply rests on the assertion that you can't trust any information source on the issue. And these jokers are doing nothing but sowing doubt and confusion on the issues.

It's completely bizarre that someone who's entire strategy rests on this inability to trust is treated as a serious player who should be relied on for - wait for it - reliable information on the matter.

All he does is throws questions about in a never ending struggle to generate enough fog to obscure what's happening. That he's complaining that there's no trustworthy information sources out there is an act of crocodile tears that surely should be rewarded by an Oscar.

That this is being debated is worthy only of banging one's head against yet another brick wall.

posted by: Azael on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM [permalink]

As for question #2: base policy on an honest (not necessarily perfect, but honest) attempt to determine the facts on the ground and to discern the range of reasonable policy options.

Sounds like the Iraq Study Group -- which was immediately ignored by the administration. Which leaves plan b: change administration (through legal means, natch), or get someone responsible and mature to seize the policy initiative.

posted by: Xenos on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM [permalink]

Q1: No, Suderman is incorrect. There is rough consensus on the Iraq issue - limit America's commitment and bring in timeline issue in the picture. Suderman and Bush backing Right is ignoring that.

Q2: Since Suderman is wrong, the policy in this matter is, as explained above, how to bring more Senators along the line of 'limiting America's involvement' and how to totally discredit foolish editors like Post's Hiatt. That is the Policy for Dems. The larger issue of formulating Foreign Policy - share the information with Congress and public to the extent possible, all along. Why do we need to invent the rules of Governance in this age? The good Governance and Leadership is taking people in confidence by sharing information, building consensus and taking majority of people of together. By taking some historical incidences where leaders might have gone against the wind; it does not become substitute to what is standard good governance.

posted by: Umesh Patil on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM [permalink]

My guess is that there is already a rough national consensus that approximates the rough consensus in this thread. So far there's only one holdout pro-war commenter, and he/she didn't really even make an argument, just implied that nothing can be done since the media lies.

I do think Suderman has a point in that agreement between those opposed to the war and those who still support it is nearly impossible when the two groups are immersed in completely different narratives. The more that adherents to each side commit to their chosen narrative, the more they have invested in sticking to it. But as previous commenters have noted, most people have reached a point where even if they supported the war at first, like John Cole or Andrew Sullivan, they have had enough by now. I think things will get much worse for the GOP before they get better.

Both sides probably agree that there can be no useful policy formulated in the current environment, either because of media duplicity and Democratic obstruction (the NRO narrative) or because Bush is still in office (the Atrios/DeLong narrative).

posted by: yave begnet on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM [permalink]

I'm fascinated by those who still claim to think that the MSM has been unduly negative in its reporting of the war. Would anyone who relied on the NY Times in 2003 or 2004 have concluded that the likely situation in 2007 was worse than the one we actually have? As I recall, the only significant MSM commentator who was predicting defeat (now the expectation of most Americans) was Paul Krugman, and even he seems over-optimistic in retrospect.

posted by: John Quiggin on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM [permalink]

First we need to decide if we want to win or lose - and define the terms and the consequences. Then we can decide how to go about doing it.

For example, I'm fairly certain that a rapid withdrawl from Iraq (i.e. "losing") will result in nuclear weapons across Asia within two years. Why on earth would Japan choose to trust us with their security when a bunch of 7th-century fanatics with car bombs sends us home with our tail between our legs? Why would they expect us to be helpful, let alone victorious, in a conflict with China? On the bright side, we can finally disband NATO - having proven that we won't actually stand-by our allies, it's pointlessness will be obvious to everyone.

Best practical solution I see: The status quo continues until the elections. That's the implicit deadline according to conventional wisdom, of which the Iraqis are certainly aware. At that point, the elections will turn on the issue and there will most likely be a clear mandate one way or the other.

posted by: mrsizer on 04.12.07 at 10:08 PM [permalink]

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