Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How to Win A War of Assassins

First of all, let me weigh in on the issue at hand before moving to Victor's defense against Mark's latest anathema sit. I think that there are a lot of ways that one can respond to Iran short of a full-scale military invasion. Indeed, I would describe much of our current situation regarding Iran as being basically akin to a kind of War of Assassins as they were laid by Frank Herbert in Dune. The difference is that the Iranians have been playing this for quite some time, whereas the United States is just starting under the outstanding leadership of General Petraeus. As anyone who has read Dune or seen its various film adaptations should be aware that wars of assassins are as much about outhinking one's opponent as it is about out-fighting them.

That said, I think that there are definite alternatives to a full-scale military conflict with Iran. Given the amount of hysteria that currently occupies much of the anti-war movement that now holds the reins of power in Congress concerning the prospect of any US military conflict with Iran, I'm pretty certain that the Revolutionary Guards could conduct a nationally televised disembowlment of the British sailors in question and the anti-war movement would still oppose any military option regarding the Iranian regime. This has basically been their view concerning Iraq, where they are quite content to abandon the country to an enemy that really does saw off the heads of its victims in televised broadcasts. In light of these constraints, it is not surprising that Petraeus has persuaded the administration to pursue a war of assassins in a manner that is already bearing fruit.

This isn't intended as a permanent solution to our problems with Iran (unlike the fictional noble houses of Dune, Iran is a revolutionary rather than dynastic in nature), but pursuing these types of policies internationally would help to contain the regime until such time when more robust military action becomes both politically and logistically viable. Unfortunately, that would require both strong international leadership and the ability to shift public opinion, both of which have been in exceedingly short supply of late in the Bush administration. Support for anti-regime elements could occur within this context, but I wouldn't expect them to actually overthrow the regime. The Abadgaran movement that is currently in power in Tehran basically cut its teeth by wiping out the organized reformist movement in the country as a social and political force and I don't think it's at all likely that a combination of communists and Arab, Kurdish, and Baluch separatists are likely to succeed where they failed. But as a holding action, it could work and should be contemplated as such.

Moving back into Mark Shea's latest commentary, I find it absolutely fascinating that he managed to shift the discussion over the Iranian seizure of British sailors to his preferred white whale of the Bush administration and torture. His commentary is pedantic it almost defies description:
I will also be outraged at the Administration for destroying our ability to bring the community of nations together to help these guys, since everybody will say, "So what? The Americans do it too."

Judging from his commentary on the subject since then, it seems to me that the majority of his outrage isn't directed against the Iranians. However, does he really think that the Iranians (or at least the ones with the guns) give a damn what the "community of nations" think of their activities? Thanks in no small part in our contemporary setting to individuals like himself who have adopted a functionally pacifistic position on how to deal with Iran, they are essentially free to do as they please without fear of facing any serious reprisal for their activities other than strong words. This has been the Iranian regime's MO since 1979, long before Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib came around. This is yet another example where Mark's view of torture combined with his Bush Derangement Syndrome are becoming for him what Andrew Sullivan's obsession with "Christianism" is for him. In both cases, it does violence to his position because it attempts to connect the writers' preferred white whales, however tenuously, to the situation at hand.

If Mark wants to seriously argue that any shift in US behavior would have caused the Iranians to behave in a different manner than they are right now with these British sailors, I would like to hear it. I don't think he can, because the United States is not omnipotent and there are plenty of independent actors out there who are quite capable of deciding to torture or abuse prisoners without the examples of Abu Ghraib or 24. I realize that it may strike him as amazing that some wicked thoughts on this matter do not emerge from the mind of Dick Cheney, but there you go.

I also find Mark's utter repulsion at the fact that various people, Michael Ledeen among them, find the Iranian regime's actions to be sufficiently repugnant that they might merit some sort of military reprisal simply astounding. As I said, he has for all practical purposes become a functional pacifist on the issue of Iran. If he wants to disprove me, I would pose the following challenge to him of what Iran would have to do for him to approve of some kind of military action against it. I suspect he finds this too horrible a possibility to even seriously contemplate, but there you go. In light of this functional pacifism to any serious action against Iran, I think it is fair to ask how he thinks the British sailors are going to be released if diplomacy fails. And if he believes "bringing the community of nations together" is going to result in anything other than reassuring words, I suspect that he is in for a rude surprise.

As for the controversy over Victor's remarks, I am going to choose to go with "smear" rather than "lie" here. Given Mark's apparent inability to actually read rather than "skim" our arguments here, I take it as a given that he reads the least charitable interpretation into our work, so his conflating of murder with execution is (at least for me) completely unsurprising. The issue was raised by an individual that I regard as basically a agent-in-waiting of the Democratic Party whose sole purpose in these discussions appears to me to shill for his particular side and to justify his allegiance to the DNC on the grounds that there is an equal level of dissent among Catholic Republicans. Seeing how he regularly accuses us and anyone of a contrary viewpoint of shilling for the Republican Party (including Catholic Answers), I see no reason why what's good for the goose isn't good for the gander here. Whatever else might be said for his flaws, at least he has the intellectual honesty to recognize that Jimmy Akin, Dave Armstrong, and others who have taken Mark to task his treatment of torture have a serious disagreement of opinion with him, something that Mark has never seriously acknowledged to my knowledge. At any rate, Mark is sufficiently affected by the Bush Derangement Syndrome and the torture debates combined with his love of triangulation that he now readily adopts this formulation alongside fairly nutty conspiracy theories about the inner workings of American democracy fairly reminiscient of those of Lyndon Larouche.

At the core of the matter is Victor's use of the term "execute." As any basic student of moral theology should know, just as there is a difference between murder and self-defense that results in the death of another, so too is there a difference between murder and the state exercising the power of the sword to execute individuals known to be serving members of a hostile organization such as Qods Force that are actively supporting the Iraqi insurgency. To deny that there is a distinction between murder and execution makes any kind of justice system in which capital punishment practiced complicit in murder, which, while Mark or his resident Democratic shill might believe that (though Mark does not, when last I checked), St. Paul did not. I fail to see a practical difference between what Victor is proposing and a state reinstituting the death penalty in response to a major spike crime. Making comparisons between the inhabitants of Lidice and the members of Qods Force that Victor was referring to is nothing short of insulting and repugnant.

15 comments:

Greg Mockeridge said...

Jimmy Akin has never taken Mark to task for anything. He just simply took a different position than that of Mark.

In fact, Jimmy was the one who sort of defended Mark by saying you guys put him in a bad position and accused you guys of pitting one orthodox Catholic apologist against another.

It would be great if Jimmy did take Mark to task though.

Phillip said...

It would be good also if Mark ever attempted to address Jimmy's excellent attempt to understand torture. It is perhaps not perfect, but Akin's effort is miles ahead of the Zippy/Disputations efforts. It is light years ahead of Mark's feeble responses.

torquemada05 said...

If you read through the arguments that Jimmy and others made on this issue, they basically shot Mark down on every substantive point and refused to back down. Mark has basically ignored this and instead tried to pretend that there is no difference of opinion between them and himself.

As far as Jimmy or anyone else having a serious discussion with Mark, Chris Blosser and Dave Armstrong tried and they didn't seem to get anywhere. The alternative appears to be that either Mark doesn't acknowledge their disagreements (what he is doing right now) or he starts adding them to his list of people to hurl straw man arguments against. I can see why someone wouldn't just eagerly opt for the latter.

Greg Mockeridge said...

There's no question that Jimmy's arguments obliterate what Mark says. But this is far from taking Mark to task for his behavior.

Instead. Jimmy took you guys to task for what he thought (falsely IMO) was "pitting one orthodox Catholic apologist against another".

Furthermore, the fact that Jimmy is still willing to endorse Mark by keeping him on the Speaker's Bureau at Catholic Answers proves my point once again.

Anonymous said...

JOSEPH D'HIPPOLITO SAYS...

It's time to organize a public boycott of any products or services that Jimmy Akin and Catholic Answers sell or provide, until Akin et al formally confront and publicly distance themselves from Shea. They must learn the hard way that associating with unsavory types such as Shea has a price -- and that the faith has survived for centuries before their august efforts hit the scene.

I'm sick and tired of this crap about "depriving people of their livelihoods." This is a capitalist society, whether we like it or not, so economic pressure is an appropriate and worthy tool. Besides, nobody has the right to earn a living specifically as a Catholic "apologist." Furthermore, Shea and his enablers are damaging the faith by their arrogant, snarky behavior.

The fact that all things Shea should be boycotted goes without saying.

kathleen said...

"It's time to organize a public boycott of any products or services that Jimmy Akin and Catholic Answers sell or provide, until Akin et al formally confront and publicly distance themselves from Shea"

i'm just wondering who buys such services in the first place. if i want catholic answers (emphatically non TM) there are myriad places to find them without resorting to an outfit that bills itself with such hubris and literal-mindedness. catholic answers, indeed.

Chris-2-4 said...

Well, concerning the "execute" vs. "murder" discussion, I'd have to say I think there's a bit of a problem in your approach. It seems very likely that these prisoners would NOT be executed under normal circumstances. If we determined to execute them "for their crimes" because of Iran's actions, then I think you've probably strayed from the realm of "just execution" to "vengeance". That would not be justice at all, since their fate rests effectively with what their state subsequently does and not with their own crimes and sentences.

torquemada05 said...

chris-2-4:

There is a distinction to be made between deterrence and vengeance. As of right now, my understanding is that we have not decided what to do with the Qods Force operatives that we are holding in Iraq. They have been accused of taking part in operations to kill American soldiers in Iraq under such circumstances I think that you can make an argument that the death penalty is licit. Since part of the reason that we have started seizing these people to begin with is intent, I think that we define what penalties we introduce to deal with them is more than appropriate under the circumstances.

Greg:

I didn't take Jimmy's comments as referring to us. I do think that he was referring to some of Mark's more opponents, but I don't think that Victor or myself are the only people out there who take issue with what Mark writes on these issues or his increasingly unhinged tone. Part of this is, as we have seen, because he puts on two very different faces when he is dealing with those he considers his peers as opposed to those that he deals with on a regular basis.

Joe:

As Victor and I have said repeatedly, we don't have any interest in organizing a boycott against Mark Shea. Among other things, neither of us has the desire to spend the amount of time and effort needed to take such action against an annoying stranger. I also suspect that the vast majority of people who pay for his services do so because they want him to talk about general theology rather than about politics.

Greg Mockeridge said...

Greg:

I didn't take Jimmy's comments as referring to us. I do think that he was referring to some of Mark's more opponents, but I don't think that Victor or myself are the only people out there who take issue with what Mark writes on these issues or his increasingly unhinged tone. Part of this is, as we have seen, because he puts on two very different faces when he is dealing with those he considers his peers as opposed to those that he deals with on a regular basis.


Who might these other people be? And how have they articulated them any different you, Victor, Chria Blosser and others?

torquemada05 said...

To be quite honest, I think that Jimmy was referring in part to Joe, who if memory serves had commented on posts in question in the combox and tends to have a, shall we say, colorful way of expressing himself when it comes to Mark Shea.

Greg Mockeridge said...

To be quite honest, I think that Jimmy was referring in part to Joe, who if memory serves had commented on posts in question in the combox and tends to have a, shall we say, colorful way of expressing himself when it comes to Mark Shea.

Nice try Torq, but not even close. Up until the post Jimmy made that remark Joe hadn't said boo in any of Jimmy's combox regarding the torture issue.

Now, I am not saying he directed his remarks specifically towards you and Vic. But given that he directed his remarks in a way that included anyone who took the position in the manner he rebuked, it definitely can't exclude you two.

So, my original point about Jimmy not taking Mark to task and at least coming closer to taking you Vic to task than Mark has a great deal of merit.

To say otherwise is pure sophistry.

torquemada05 said...

Like said, I was going off memory. As such I hope you'll allow me to concede the point.

Phillip said...

Greg,

Be that as it may, it seems true that Mark is becoming increasingly unhinged in his assessments. Not that he sees it is such. Its just a consequence of starting with bad premises.

Now if he started with Akin's solid definition of torture he would likely be less inclined to an apocalyptic vision of America's near future.

Anonymous said...

JOSEPH D'HIPPOLITO SAYS....

i'm just wondering who buys such services in the first place. if i want catholic answers (emphatically non TM) there are myriad places to find them without resorting to an outfit that bills itself with such hubris and literal-mindedness. catholic answers, indeed.

True enough, Kathleen. The fact is that Akin, Keating, Shea et al obviously have businesses that sell goods (tapes and books) and services (lectures for a fee) -- which means that nobody is obligated to patonize those services if the credibility or character of the parties offering those services is questionable. The point is to show how Akin, Keating and other apologists' refusal to hold Shea accountable compromises their witness as Christians, let alone as Catholics.

As Victor and I have said repeatedly, we don't have any interest in organizing a boycott against Mark Shea.

Torq, I was talking about boycotting Akin, Keating and other apologists who refuse to hold Shea accountable. Nevertheless, not organizing a boycott is entirely your perogative (and Victor's, as well). However, how else do you plan to hold Shea accountable? If it's this blog, how successful has that attempt been, given his obsessive reaction to it? If you can trace the decline in Shea's blog hits to CfF, great. But Shea doesn't really make money off his blog (his quarterly fundraising is a joke), which he uses to spout off. The only thing he'll understand is a serious hit in the pocket book from his clients.

If you have any other ideas concerning holding Shea accountable, put them out there.

kathleen said...

"I also suspect that the vast majority of people who pay for his services do so because they want him to talk about general theology rather than about politics."

yes, but how credible is someone in his chosen field of "general theology" given what he says and/or how he behaves online? I don't care so much if it's bobby fischer spouting off wacko political theories -- he still excels at chess (or could, theoretically) -- but in matters of theology i expect a little more, shall we say, personal integrity or "integratedness" from our "experts".