Wednesday, January 31, 2007

One step forward, two steps back ...

I've noted before that Mark has been shifting his goalposts on the issue of torture away from his fundamentalist interpretation of Gaudium et Spes and towards a far less controversial (in the sense of moral theology) that US treatment of detainees violates the Church's view that prisoners should be treated humanely. As I've noted before, I have no real moral theology problems with Mark railing against our current system of how we deal with detained terrorists. Rather, my ire is directed towards his fundamentalist insistence at dragooning two encyclicals to support his view and then proceeding to argue that anyone who disagrees with him (as long as they aren't a Catholic apologist that he knows) is the equivalent of an abortion supporter, apologist for Satan, et al.
Now I imagine that I'll still part ways with Mark's other arguments concerning torture because of his apparent inability to argue outside of triangulation, straw man arguments, and hyperbole (all of which are exemplified by his "have you stopped beating your wife yet" style of argumentation in the combox), but this is at least a far better improvement from where we were before.

That said, Mark also continues to fundamentally misunderstand the views of a lot of the people who disagree with him on this one. The only motivation that he can even conceive of as far as why anyone would take issue with his point of view on this one apart from a slavish loyalty to the Bush administration. It's very much akin to the claim by gay rights activists that the only reason anyone could ever conceiveably oppose gay marriage is due to a deep and burning hatred of homosexuals or the claim that the only reason that you could ever oppose affirmative action is a desire to do harm to African Americans.

Also, is it me or is this line of argumentation (which I think I've also seen Zippy use) less than persuasive:
It really is simple. If you are captured, would you want to be waterboarded? Yes or no? If no, then you should not do it to prisoners you have captured. Repeat for whatever other technique you want to try. Not complicated at all.

I wouldn't want to be executed either, but I don't think it is at all objectionable for such procedures to be carried out in war. The power of the sword is explicitly granted to the state by God, regardless of the specifics of when it should be implemented. I really don't think that this is very convincing, since I would think that very few of the people who should be executed are going to desire to have it happen to them.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

As I said before, Mark ...

You can rest assured that the regime in Iran is preserved from harm for at least the next two years. An administration that is hard-pressed to mount an offensive in Baghdad isn't going to be moving on to Tehran any time soon. Like I said, that is a shame because Iran and its surrogates and allies are currently hard at work killing our troops (to say nothing of thousands of Iraqis), a point acknowledged even by James Baker. You aren't being "stampeded into war" if you are responding to someone who has been carrying out unprovoked attacks on your troops. I haven't seen Mark discuss that angle, I expect because it's an awful lot easier for him to cite pooh-pooh claims of a potential Iranian nuclear threat that he can rhetorically link to the threat posed by the Iraqi WMDs. My money says that if he does bring up the issue of the Iranian role in killing US troops, it'll only be as another rhetorical bomb to hurl against the Iraq war without (as usual) thinking through the full implications of his position.

And while Mark and his new paleocon buddy Daniel Larison are pondering this:
... the curious fact that if you say "We should pre-emptively launch a war against Iran because it's in Israel's best interests" you are a political visionary and another Churchill. If you say "We should not pre-emptively launch a war against Iran because it's in Israel's best interests" you are an anti-semitic conspiracy theorist.

He might want to address the answer provided by K of C in his own combox:
As a preliminary matter, let me repeat what I said to Mark: I don't know what to do about Iran. I don't know if any military action is just at this point. I don't trust the CIA and this administration to give me the straight dope on what's going on over there. I'm not advocating anything. So if you're trying to argue that attacking Iran is wrong, save your breath. That's what I said "it could be Canada for all I care." What I'm addressing is Larison's statements about a double standard in discussions of anti-Semitism and US Israel policy. Further, let me state that it is a wide open question whether any given action that is good for Israel is also good for America. It is a perfectly reasonable position to argue that supporting Israel in any given situtaion is not in America's interests. So now that that's out of the way, let's get down to business.

I'm going to reprint what I pasted above. Please read these statements by Larison very carefully:

[T]o observe in a negative or critical way that an attack on Iran is being done for the sake of Israel (or, in reality, maximalist hawkish definitions of Israeli security interests)- rather than, say, because of any legitimate American interest in doing so - is to invite derision and claims of conspiracy-mongering. (Emphasis added).

In other words, "Bush isn't acting in America's interests. He's doing Israel's bidding, and he knows it." There is no room to say Bush mistakenly though that attacking was in America's interests. You're accusing Bush of attacking "for the sake of Israel," which implies a conscious, informed choice. You're saying that Bush knows he's not acting in America's interest. He's not attacking for America's sake. He's attacking for "the sake of Israel." He's not confused or misinformed. He's doing it for Israel, not for America.

That's a very serious charge to make, and it relies on anti-Semitism for it to work fully. Who could convince Bush to betray his country and send men to die for Israel? Who could be that dastardly? Why, the sneaky Jews, of course, with their control of the media and their Jew Gold. Anti-semitism lurks just under the surface of this type of accusation. Larison can't see that, but I think it's pretty obvious.

Next, Larison offers this statement, and wonders why it's - pardon the term - kosher:

On the other hand, to call for action against Iran partly or fully for the sake of Israel (especially when in Israel), as Gov. Romney recently did, will normally earn you praise and plaudits for your "moral" leadership on a vital issue.

Assuming that Israel's interests and America's interests are aligned, there is nothing wrong with calling for action "partly" for the sake of Israel. It's not wholly for the sake of Israel; it's "partly" for America's sake, too. Nothing in that statement dredges up ugly stereotypes of sneaky Jews. Noting in that statement implies betraying America "for the sake of Israel." That's the difference.

As I said above, reasonable people can disagree about the extent to which US and Israeli interests are aligned. But if someone believes that they are in fact aligned, and acts to help Israel, he's acting in America's interest. That's world's apart from saying "the only reason Bush attacked Iran was to serve his Jew masters," the clear subtext of the first statement.

That seems about right to me. I would also note that most sensible arguments about why the US should attack Iran in order to protect into Israel discuss the apocalyptic mentality of the Hojjatieh cult led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi that currently occupies the corridors of power in much of the Iranian leadership these days. The argument, essentially, is that we should prevent Iran from carrying out genocide. Many of the serious people who advocate this (those evil neocons that Mark hates so much) make this argument because, whatever their views on Israel, they regard genocide as being a bad thing. This why they have also urged similar action regarding Sudan in Darfur. Of course, Mark supports intervention in Darfur (or supported at any rate, he may well repudiate any action that involves doing anything substantive there given his current creeping paleocon/isolationist views and desire to instinctively oppose anything favored by neoconservatives) but opposes it in the case of Iran, probably because he has now completely rejected anything resembling a preemptive strike as inconsistent with Just War Doctrine. That's fine, but the idea the failure to distinguish between a desire to avoid genocide with placing the interests of a foreign power shows a profound lack of basic comprehension to me, whatever he thinks all the New York money people are up to.

Rome vs. Carthage redux

Mark writes:
I'm not particularly addressing America's relationship with the Islamic world at all. That's because, as I said, I don't think the Story is about America (or Islam for that matter). I think it's about Christ and the Church. For me, things matter as they are related to that central drama. One of the patterns I note in the biblical revelation of Christ's Church is the pattern I described yesterday: that the Assyrian is ultimately a rod in the hand of God. He may think he's calling the shots, but actually it's God. So I think the wise approach is to "seek first His Kingdon and His righteousness" rather than spend the bulk of our energy looking for ways to hold on to our sin while still cleverly manipulating politics, science, technology, etc. in order to stave off the consequences of our rejection of God. It seems obvious to me that the post-Christian West is deeply engaged in the latter process and that the result will simply be to make our final self-inflicted judgement (all such dooms are self-inflicted) more complicated and terrible.

However, I also believe that God is rich in mercy and that repentence is possible at any time. I have no particular crystal ball that allows me to see the future with respect to Islam and the West. But we do have a bit of revelation concerning the Church and it gives me hope. I am not as confident as some of my readers that the world is doomed to an Islamic future in saecula saeculorum. That is not to say it is not a source of great evil. It is simply to say that I'm not ready to simply throw in the sponge and say the power of the Christ who conquers death is helpless against the onslaught of Islam. Part of my reason for thinking this is theological: Islam does not seem to me to fit the bill for the final apostasy and the nature of Antichrist. We are, to be sure, absolutely guaranteed that the Church faces a "final trial that will shake the faith of many believers. The persecution that accompanies her pilgrimage on earth will unveil the "mystery of iniquity" in the form of a religious deception offering men an apparent solution to their problems at the price of apostasy from the truth. The supreme religious deception is that of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh." (CCC 675).

The question I find myself asking, in light of biblical revelation, is this: which side of the conflict between the post-Christian West and the Foaming Bronze Age Fanatic Islamosphere is far more likely to give us "the lawless one ... the one doomed to perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god and object of worship, so as to seat himself in the temple of God, claiming that he is a god" (2 Thessalonians 2:3-4). Say what you will about Islam, but I don't see it producing that figure in a million years, whereas the West is ripe to give birth to him right now.

That's not to say I *prefer* the Foaming Bronze Age Thugs to win. It's to say that, in my heart, I cannot believe that they will. I think Scripture is true and that the coming of Christ will take place in a world that is apostate and (mark this) seriously ready to deify man, not in a world that never heard the gospel and which regards the deification of man with horror. That description fits the decadent West a lot better than than the Islamic East, so I retain a confidence, if you can call it that, that the winners of this particular "civilizational struggle" will be the post-Christian West, whose cultural and technological masters are laboring even now to create fresh sins that cry out to heaven and terrors that will dwarf Islam's crimes as continue on our post-Christian path toward "the supreme religious deception ... of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh."

When that will come, we don't know. *That* it will come is guaranteed by the word of God. And for my money, it seems much more like to come from a Decadent West triumphant over Islam than from Radical Islam triumphant over the West.

To which I have a number of theological and prudential objections to this, not the least of the latter being that arguing that our culture is far more likely to produce the eschatological embodiment of evil than Islam strikes me as a de facto argument that we are, at the end of the day, more evil than our current crop of enemies. IIRC, didn't the New Oxford Review write something to the effect that the Caliphate might perhaps be preferable to our current state of affairs because of the absence of gay marriage?

While the evils of the Islamic world are not the evils of the West (post-Christian or otherwise) no more than our evils are synonymous with those that occur in Africa or China, to rank ours as being so superior to them strikes me as exceedingly wrong-headed. And while I realize that Mark regards the entire politically active pro-life movement as nothing more than a sham because he has soured on the GOP over the war in Iraq, he might want to take note of the sacrifices that millions of people have made for that movement in order to turn back the clock. And if I might be permitted to champion Europe against the general gloom and doom that characterizes the future of the Continent not as the beginning of shar'iah eternal but rather as part of a necessary if unfortunately bloody catalyst needed to help Europe rediscover its Christian heritage. The West de-Christianized itself in less than a century, the argument that such a de-Christianization is irreversible strikes me as being less than a sure assumption. Mark also fails to recognize that the main levers of socio-cultural power in the post-Christian West are far more degenerate than they are tyrannical. If they cannot even mount a coherent defense against the Jihad, I fail to see how they are likely to be enslaving the planet any time soon. The vision of the future received by St. John has many possible lines of interpretation, but I have never seen any exegesis to the effect that the rule of the Antichrist will be a passive affair.

One thing I will take issue with in particular is this one:
I think Scripture is true and that the coming of Christ will take place in a world that is apostate and (mark this) seriously ready to deify man, not in a world that never heard the gospel and which regards the deification of man with horror. That description fits the decadent West a lot better than than the Islamic East, so I retain a confidence, if you can call it that, that the winners of this particular "civilizational struggle" will be the post-Christian West, whose cultural and technological masters are laboring even now to create fresh sins that cry out to heaven and terrors that will dwarf Islam's crimes as continue on our post-Christian path toward "the supreme religious deception ... of the Antichrist, a pseudo-messianism by which man glorifies himself in place of God and of his Messiah come in the flesh."

The vicious death cult currently practiced by proponents of suicide bombing, let alone the sick cults of personality that exist around Osama bin Laden and Abu Musab Zarqawi strike me as just as much a deification of man as anything the transhumanists, libertines, or libertarians that I suspect are the focus of much of Mark's ire in the West ever cooked up. Same goes for those that existed around Hitler, Stalin, or Chairman Mao that we see repeated miniature form by Kim Jong Il. Depending on how far back you want to go, there has been shortage of men willing play god and people willing to follow them to the most brutal ends imaginable. All of these views were evil, but they all managed to come to a conclusion without being eschatological.

One of my fundamental problems with Mark's whole conceptual framework for the war on terrorism is that he is incapable of understanding it outside of Rome vs. Carthage. For him, it's always a "heads they win, tails we lose." While this is certainly true in the sense that evil will always be with us short of the eschaton, to argue that there is never a preferable outcome in secular conflicts because we lack perfection is not only wrong-headed but unscriptural. To fall back on outcome that I suspect Mark will agree with, I do not believe that because of manifold sins practiced by the United States during the 1940s (and were these sins all that better than those we practice now? Or were they merely a different flavor of the same poison?) meant that there was no real difference in whether or not we or the Nazis prevailed? I certainly don't think so then, and I would argue that the same is true now.

After all, being a Molinist after Dave Armstrong who helped to convert me, I believe that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Trouble With Triangulating Bin Laden

Mark's take on the D'Souza controversy strikes me as both exceedingly wrong-headed and reflective of a broader flaw in his general style of argumentation that I have noted before:
if it's this roundly hated by both sides in the Ideology Wars, there is probably something to it.

Now there are some cases when triangulation is good and some cases when it is bad, but adopting it as one's preferred default position as Mark often does in order to "prove" his point is recipe for disaster. The issue of the D'Souza book strikes me as being one of those situations where disaster seems quite likely to ensue. Before I begin, I want to make it clear that I have read D'Souza's previous works and enjoyed them but think that he is exceedingly wrong-headed in his understanding of this issue. That Mark is so eager to buy into the thesis that he elevates him to the level of a Biblical prophet indicates to me that he doesn't understand much about what either D'Souza is saying or about the role of the prophets:
Part of the way to do this, of course, is to examine our own house and see if we've got some repentin' to do. That's essentially the annoying approach the prophets tended to take with Israel. When the Assyrians came into town, the prophets didn't tells Israel that the Assyrians were misunderstood guys who meant well if your properly contextualized the mounds of human heads they liked to construct. But they also didn't blather jingoistic crap about Our Israelite Way of Life Must Be Preserved Against Terrorists Who Hate Our Freedom. They said, "Repent and the Lord will take care of the Rod he has brought against you."

Except that from what I understand of his book, if D'Souza were an Old Testament prophet he would basically be arguing that the Assyrians were fundamentally correct in their worldview about why Israel had to go. Now I have read all of the major and minor prophets on many occasions, but I have never seen that particular exegesis invoked. D'Souza, while correct in his view that there are a number of features about the post-Christian West that are worthy of derision and repudiation, more or less accepts the al-Qaeda propaganda line that this is why the United States and its allies are hated and even goes as far as to buy into the claim that there is an active conspiracy against Islam afoot in the West.

If only it were that simple.

For those of us who actually bother to read documents like bin Laden's 2002 letter to America that attempt to summarize his ideology, it's a little more complicated than that:
(viii) And because of all this, you have been described in history as a nation that spreads diseases that were unknown to man in the past. Go ahead and boast to the nations of man, that you brought them AIDS as a Satanic American Invention.

(xi) You have destroyed nature with your industrial waste and gases more than any other nation in history. Despite this, you refuse to sign the Kyoto agreement so that you can secure the profit of your greedy companies and*industries.

(x) Your law is the law of the rich and wealthy people, who hold sway in their political parties, and fund their election campaigns with their gifts. Behind them stand the Jews, who control your policies, media and economy.

I notice that no one ever seems to discuss these particular grievances when we talk about why al-Qaeda hates us. John J. Reilly noted the following concerning al-Qaeda's objectives in his review of Michael Scheuer's Imperial Hubris:
Readers will note that the list of al Qaeda's grievances seems a bit self-generating. The U.S. is in Afghanistan, for instance, because of the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11. (That's also true of Iraq: irrespective of the Baathist regime's role in 911, there was no way a comprehensive response could have been made without resolving the Iraq question, though Anonymous will have none of this line of argument.) We find the same damned-if-you do, damned-if-you don't quality in Anonymous's extended list of things that the U.S. does to annoy Muslims. For instance, we are told:

“America has declared that waging jihad against Islam's attackers is a criminal act and seized and incarcerated—often without trial—hundreds of suspected mujaheddin around the world. For a Muslim to refrain from joining a defensive jihad to protect Islam means disobeying God's law and earning damnation.”

This is a head-scratcher. Apparently, arresting an aspirant martyr as he tries to smuggle explosives over the Canadian border is not just a disappointment, but a grievance. In fact, it's a legitimate grievance, since Anonymous accepts the characterization of al Qaeda's project as a “defensive jihad.” When Osama bin Laden says that Muslim lands are under assault all over the world at the behest of the U.S., he is describing reality. That is why the United States was struck on 911.

Other observers may find bin Laden's list of “attacks” against Islam to be, at best, unevenly persuasive. It includes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a topic on which differences of opinion sometimes occur, but at least Anonymous is clear that no solution that includes the existence of Israel would be acceptable to al Qaeda or other Islamist groups. It includes the independence of East Timor, which I had thought of as a Catholic country that Islamic Indonesia had tried and failed to assimilate, but I can see how other people might think differently. As far as I am concerned, however, there is only one sane opinion about this complaint from bin Laden:

“What documents incriminated the Muslims of Bosnia-Herzegovina and warranted the Western Crusaders, with the United States at their head, to unleash the Serb ally to annihilate and displace the Muslim people of the region under U.N. cover?”

Perhaps an isolated villager in the Hindu Kush could be forgiven for believing that the United States tried to use Serbia to de-Islamize all or part of the Balkans. However, as Anonymous never ceases to remind us, Osama bin Laden is a well-informed man, with a sophisticated understanding of the world. In the case of this grievance, at least, we are not dealing with a culturally different perception. We are dealing with what Joseph Goebbels used to call “The Big Lie.”

Now one might argue that there is a rather large gulf of differences between the worldviews of Muslims and even Islamists and that of Osama bin Laden. I certainly agree with that, but the reason we even care about the worldview of the former to begin with is because those holding to the latter are currently attempting to kill us. The idea that this rather nutty understanding of geopolitics can be separated from al-Qaeda's views of Western depravity is a red herring, because as a practical matter one flows naturally from one into the other as far as they are concerned. Unfortunately, we Westerners do, which is why there are people like D'Souza who think that it is possible to discuss only their criticism of Western immorality or far too many others (see the combox examples to come) who only want to talk about al-Qaeda's geopolitical aims when giving credence to the group's stated objectives. In both cases, I think people are rather bizarrely using al-Qaeda as a stepping stone for their own pet ideological objectives.

Michael Scheuer discusses this on pages 211-212 of Imperial Hubris when explaining the reasons for bin Laden's popularity:
First [unlike Ayatollah Khomeini], bin Laden is from the Muslim world's Sunni majority - and a Salafi, its fastest growing, most conservative, and most martially inclined sect - and not a minority Shia like Khomeini. Second, he has spurned the Ayatollah's wholesale condemnation of Western society and focused on six specific, bread-and-butter issues on which there is widespread agreement among Muslims, whenever they lie on the liberal-to-militant spectrum. Most Muslims would like to see the Prophet's land vacated by non-Muslims, the infidels who, as Mohammed said on his deathbed, had no place on the Arab Peninsula. Likewise, many would relish the elimination of Israel and the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state. Large majorities also can be found in support of making a greater profit on the sale of Muslim-produced oil and natural gas to the rest of the world, and using the money to improve the quality of life for Muslims. Few Muslims, moreover, would oppose the destruction of a set of apostate governments that are among the planet's most brutal, repressive, corrupt, and hypocritical, family ruled regimes that have the profits from oil sales to fund their own debauchery and rent the loyalty of their bankers, businessmen, and academics. Finally, the oppression of Muslims outside the Arab heartland - in Kashmir, Chechnya, India, and Xinjiang - has become a gut issue for Muslims thanks to bin Laden's rhetoric and, even more, the pervasive presence of real-time, Muslim-owned satellite television. These six foreign policy goals are Mom-and-apple-pie for most Muslims, and bin Laden has tied them to the positive message that God promises Muslims victory if they take the path of jihad that He required and His messenger explained and preached.

Now I think that Scheuer's a nut when it comes to his policy recommendations, but I would be a fool to doubt the validity of his factual understanding of al-Qaeda and its objectives. But no doubt Mark and D'Souza know far more about al-Qaeda, what it wants, and why it appeals to Muslims than does the former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit.

That said, I note that Josiah, who has been considerably more measured than yours truly, has been banned by Mark for criticizing him and pointing out the holes in his arguments. Now it's Mark's blog and he can ban whoever the heck he wants, but I continue to find it interesting that people like Josiah are banned while stuff like this are okay:
The Israelis still control Gaza, the points of entry, the airspace, the water, etc. The reason the Arabs opposed Zionism was not religious hatred, it was political. They knew Zionism meant expulsion and territorial dispossesion for them. It turned out they were right. It is also not true that non-Jews have the same rights in Israel as Jews. It would not be a Zionist state if that were true! Yes there are some real anti-semites out there...probably many Arabs who have had their land taken, homes bulldozed, and loved ones killed by the Israelis, but anti-semitism is an overused label thrown at those who are hated by the Israeli lobby. Sorry to see you are such a sucker for Israeli propaganda!

Now maybe it's just me, but I find that a lot more objectionable than anything Josiah ever wrote.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Beyond All Parody

First of all, as someone who was having kind of a frustrating day today, I'd like to thank Richard Comerford and friends for providing so much entertainment to everyone who was reading this set of comboxes today in which Comerford engaged in a behavior that was beyond parody in his comparing the Coalition to a secret society and demanding to know who was funding us. Victor, thank you for saving that whole exchange for future reference. And while Mark now claims that he didn't find anything particularly disagreeable with the notion that the Coalition is engaged in some faustian pact with the Bush administration, I think at this point even he is willing to concede that there is something more than a little flaky about the internal reasoning of his preferred "expert" on all things relating to interrogation. The charge that Victor and I are running the Coalition in the hopes of becoming part of the American ruling class (to whom Mark Shea, no doubt, is regarded as a dire threat) smacks of a rather bizarre species of paranoia that I haven't seen since So I Married An Axe Murderer.

In answer to Comerford's latest lunacy, my name and my occupation are my own. The name Torquemada was chosen by Victor as a parody of Mark's willingness to demonize of those who disagree with his fundamentalist view of Gaudium et Spes (though not Jimmy Akin or Dave Armstrong or any other Catholic apologist he happens to know, since it appears that some animals are more equal than others when it comes to disagreeing with Mark on matters of theology) more than any real knowledge of the man outside his article in the Catholic Encyclopedia. It is intended as irony, though I never expected that so much paranoia would surround my true identity.

Moving right along from there, I see that Mark, once again displaying his paleocon paranoia, fears for the possibility that Bush might order an attack on Iran. How exactly this is supposed to happen given how hard-pressed the administration is to order an offensive in Baghdad at this point is beyond me, but leave it to the Buchanan Brigade to be concerned for Iran at a time when it is actively complicit in supporting the Iraqi insurgency, acts that have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of American troops and thousands of Iraqi civilians. Now maybe Mark doesn't have any problems with that, just like he apparently doesn't have a problem with all the Iraqis (let alone Americans) who have to die for Quds Force's designs so long as they aren't Chaldeans,* but I do and unlike Mark I choose to blame the people who are actually doing the killing for their deaths rather than go through all kinds of tortured logic in order to blame it all on Bush and the neocons. If applied to a domestic setting, this reasoning is the equivalent of blaming the police getting tough on a bad neighborhood for crime.

Mark writes:
I expect reaction among the war supporters will range from "Bush will never do that! Thos media panic-mongers are crazy!" to "Bush must do that! Those media-panic mongers are cowards!" If Bush does do it, then the former folk might wind up choosing between saying "All the deeds of the President are righteous, just, and wise. Blessed be the name of the President." or saying, "If Buchanan and Geyer were right here. What if they have been right about other things too." Of course, there are other possible reactions to action (assuming it happens) but I think those two might be prominent ones.

Anyhow, we'll see. Given the way the administration has prosecuted the war so far, I'd like to say they wouldn't do a half-hearted "surge" with inadequate troops and then dramatically expand the war with overstretched resources and make the Middle East spiral even further out of control beyond the wildest dreams of Osama bin Laden, but given the track record, I'm afraid that Bush will do exactly that.

To which I respond:

Get a clue. Regardless of the paranoid fantasies of the Buchanan Brigade, Bush is literally at the bottom of the barrel concerning his domestic political support. His speeches have done nothing to prepare the American public for what it will actually take to restore order in Baghdad (read: several months of very nasty street fighting), though Petraeus is far more candid in this regard. If Bush is barely able to sustain an offensive in Baghdad, how he is supposed to be able to mount a full-blown invasion of Iran is beyond me. Particularly since, according to Mark's paranoid worldview, the attack on Iran is supposed to come about after the surge ends (read: fails). It would certainly be nice if someone decided to do something about Iran's role in the deaths of both American troops and countless Iraqi civilians, but that prospect doesn't even occur to Mark. But not to worry, Khamenei and Ahmadinejad's vile regime in Tehran is likely to be secure for the immediate future and Mark can derive whatever comfort he desires from that.

One minor point to be made about this whole "playing into bin Laden's hands" thing. Bin Laden is not omniscient nor is he indestructible. He did not attack the United States because he believed it to be strong but instead because he believed it to be weak and degenerate. Moreover, while his strategy of bleeding the US to the point of defeat in Iraq seems to be proceeding apace, this is largely due to the twin factors that the administration has largely failed (at least publicly) to recognize the Iraq war as a theater in a broader campaign against al-Qaeda and then to act accordingly. Mark would no doubt be aware of this if he actually bothered to read Michael Ledeen or the Weekly Standard for anything other than polemical value. The latter publication in particular has recently published some very good articles on the rise of al-Qaeda in Waziristan and the US role in defeating the ICU in Somalia, two key issues that have been more or less ignored by the American press. I guess the difference is that the neocons, warts and all, are more interested in learning about the war in order to win it rather than to criticize it.

Lastly, I note that Mark is now blaming the Iraq war for the failure to repeal Roe vs. Wade, even though if that issue is going to be resolved it is likely to occur where it began, that being the Supreme Court. Josiah correctly notes that Mark's claim that "the GOP had five years of unrestricted power and did just a little short of jack--because they don't care about abortion and are only interested in exploiting the pro-life vote" is simply speaking, factually untrue and provides ample evidence to the contrary. Not that it matters, since I think Mark already demonstrated that he actually knows very little about the political movement to which he belonged when he started conflating neocons with libertarians. IIRC, Christopher Blosser dealt him fairly solid rebuttal to his assertion that Bill Kristol doesn't care about pro-life causes, though he continues to make it periodically. I don't hold it against people for not being able to appreciate the finer points about the political movement to which they belong, but I would appreciate it if Mark exercised a little bit more refinement when issuing his anathema sits against the entire GOP. Somewhat amusingly and disturbingly, Father Frank Pavone is derided for ideological impurity and seriously compared to the anti-Semitic Father Coughlin in the comments. Then again, the invasion of Iraq is also equated with the Nazi invasion of Poland (are the Kurds to be equated with Stalin since they assisted us, one wonders?).

* To those who will accuse me of engaging in demonization or hyperbole here, one of Mark's consistent criticisms with the Iraq war has been how it has affected the Iraqi Christian community. While I agree that their fate should definitely be of concern, I don't subscribe to the hideously amoral and absurd notion that Saddam should have been free to murder his own people to his desire so long as he left a couple of Chaldeans alive to serve as museum fixtures. This is essentially one of the arguments that Mark has been making on a number of occasions to use as a rhetorical and emotional club against the war, albeit inconsistently because he doesn't take understand the intellectual ramifications of his own arguments.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Funniest. Combox. Ever.

One person told me "it was like a Monty Python skit." It happened at Chez Shea early this afternoon, though he's now deleted it.¹ Now, thinks to the magic of Web Archive savings -- the entire thing is here.

Richard Comerford melts down into utter paranoia, accusing me of blogging anonymously and being part of the Washington ruling class ("an important player" no less) with ties to all sorts of nefarious deeds, demanding to know my "secreat identity," wondering who's funding this site and how my employer must be behind it all (plus the distasteful insinuations of being a for-show Catholic and being a Judas).

When pointed out that my identity is obvious (I'd like to think I'm fairly well-known in St. Blogs and I've never hidden who I am), he plays the "I'm just thick-headed" card. Though I suppose I should be glad for Christopher Blosser that he was "very helpful in lifting the veil part way off the face of the secret society over at the FOG Blog." I decided to have some fun. The ridiculous deserves ridicule.

The entire thread, sans Shea's deletions (marked thus by me; otherwise unchanged), should leave Comerford with no credibility as a sane person. For amusement purposes only. Kids ... no betting.

And one serious point. Another person goes on my to-be-ignored-on-principle list for his very insightful insinuation that Torq and I are Nazis (or to be precise, his stating aloud that it was a worthwhile hypothesis to consider).
¹ I'd be curious why Shea deleted it . Not whether it's defensible to do it -- of course it is. But why, exactly. I can think of several reasons why one might -- dislike of me (obviously not worth rehashing in itself; it's now simply a fact), fear of Comerford's lawsuit threats (as Josiah speculated), distaste for the pomo style of humor (understandable), embarrassment at having vouched for such a flake (as other speculated to me privately). In fact ... I'm laying down my arms, Mark, think of JOYEUX NOEL ... I'd appreciate it if you'd say why. If you post it here, and stick to that subject, I won't delete it and won't permit any follow-ups from anyone.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

To answer your question, Mark ...

After all, whatever Rod's opinions on the administration or conservatism in general (and I think the Claremont Review of Books did a pretty good job of dealing with the latter), he never to the best of my knowledge sought to pass off agreement with his prudential judgements with allegiance to the Catholic Magisterium. I suspect that he will adopt a similar view with regard to distinguishing his views from those of the Orthodox hierarchy. I still disagree vehemently with Rod on entire his NPR commentary, but he doesn't seem to me to be arguing from a position of strength.

You, by contrast, have repeatedly conflated your own opinion with that of the Magisterium and used that to demagogue against your opponents, which is one of the reasons why Victor started up the Coalition for Fog in the first place. I think that you are a good apologist when it comes to theology, but it is quite clear to me that your Bush Derangement Syndrome, need to triangulate above all else, and a host of other views have led you to the position of sacralizing or borderline sacralizing policy positions on issues of war and peace that the Magisterium itself regards as still open to prudential judgement.

Now, as to Rod's statement that he was a fool to trust the administration, it is increasingly appearing as though this may in fact be true due to the fact that the administration currently in existence in 2006 is quite a different animal than the one that came into being with great fanfare after 9/11. There have been a series of major US-led successes in the last month, such as the defeat of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia and the renewed sense that we are actually going to do something more than complain about Iranian complicity in killing our troops in Iraq. Even so, the situation remains very fluid and I'm not holding my breath at this point. Near as I can tell, the long discrediting of President Bush started in the summer of 2005 when he was basically put under seige down at Crawford for a month by a woman who has long since been exposed as a lunatic. He didn't fight back then, he didn't fight back after Katrina, and he barely fought back against Murtha's offensive. And, much like al-Qaeda's strategy in Iraq, the long build-up of gaping wounds finally taken their toll on Bush to the point where he has now been fairly thoroughly emasculated in the arena of foreign policy. This hasn't stopped the usual ranks of conspiracy theorists from claiming that we're planning to mount a full-scale attack on Iran any day now, though given that even James Baker admitted in his report that Iran was complicit in killing American troops in Iraq, a reprisal would strike me as common geopolitical sense at this point. However, at this point it is quite clear that the Bush doctrine as it was articulated after September 11 is long since dead, due in part to his own ineptitude at communication and unwillingness to fight back either with words or weapons. In the absence of this, the foreign policy establishment's views that best personified by the posts and comments at Belgravia Dispatch are stepping to the fore, and I would suggest that Mark check back in the archives for the author's comments about the "Dobsonites" if he believes that these people are going to support the worldview of his creeping paleoconservatism that holds we have to become morally acceptable in his eyes before we have the right to defend ourselves against al-Qaeda.

At this point, absent another major terrorist attack, I do not believe that the American political establishment is capable of or interested in mounting a major response to the threat of an al-Qaeda that, far from crippled, is revived and growing stronger. And lest anyone think that the war in Iraq is the reason for this, I would note that events in Pakistan and their essential creation of a Taliban 2.0 over their northern border with better infrastructure has a lot to do with this. Short of invading Pakistan, there isn't much we can do at this point, and anyone who thinks that a US that had its ass handed to it in Iraq is going to do anything militarily in Pakistan is living in a fool's paradise at this point. That's really too bad, because as I said after the elections, a lot of people are going to die, many of them Muslims. I think that lot of Americans are likely to die too, certainly more than the 3,000+ that have everyone ready to surrender in Iraq. One of the reasons that I support John McCain is that he strikes me as one of the few national politicians who actually understands this, but that's probably a dispute best left for another day.

There's been some discussion in the comments about why Victor and I don't branch out to encompass more topics than Mark Shea. To that I would answer that I think we actually do, but that the focus on Mark for me has more to do with time than anything else. As long as he is going to be engaging in the cheap demagoguery that he does from his platform as a Catholic apologist, I am going to continue to try and refute him with the ultimate goal of correcting his errors more than anything else. I do not want to see Catholics who go to his website seeking counsel on matters of theology leave there with bad theology (as in the torture debate) or politics that I believe to be prudentially nutty.

In addition, Mark and some of his admirers have made much of the fact that Joe D'Hippolito posts here. I have my own disagreements with D'Hippolito as I think anyone who compares our two worldviews side-by-side, but he has never done or said anything that would make me ban him from the blog. Certainly I haven't seen anything as objectionable from him as I have from Marv Wood, who seems to basically feel that there's nothing terribly wrong with Osama as long as he's going after Amerikkka. Besides, Joe comments regularly on any number of sites around St. Blogs (including Jimmy Akin) and Mark doesn't feel compelled to condemn or label them together with him. So I guess I'm really not seeing what the problem is here.

Monday, January 08, 2007

And While I'm At It ...

Since I've always found Mark's knee-jerk hatred for Michael Ledeen to be one of his more amusing pathologies, I'm not entirely surprised that he's embraced Glenn Greenwald on this one. Alas, no sock puppets are yet to be found.

What is far more interesting, however, is the seemless manner in which Mark manages to transition between the issue of torture and the Iraq war. I've tried to grant him a lot of charity in the past by saying that his opposition to torture is separate from his increasing Bush Derangement Syndrome and creeping paleoconservatism, but this is little more than priceless. Incidentally, if Mark is so certain of Ledeen's mendacity then he should be quite able to read it himself and demonstrate it for his readers in the free copies of War Against the Terror Masters, An End to Evil (which was not written by Ledeen and does support the war in Iraq), and Neoconservatism that I have repeatedly offered him so that he can actually have some idea of the actual arguments of the people he is debating with. That offer, by the way, will remain open indefinitely in the hopes of his eventual enlightenment on this issue.

Mark's comments:
You're getting tangled up in all your kneejerk tropes. You appear to be arguing with some phantom from a FOX news induced fever dream. Wake up. *This* thread is not about Cindy Sheehan. It's about neocon agitprop artists for war who are now trying to leave your hero, Mr. Bush, holding the bag while they slink off and try to pretend they were not the chief drumbeaters for war. If you are going to babble about betrayal, I suggest you look at them first, not at people who have been frankly and openly opposed to the war for years.

Except here's the thing - 70% of the country supported the war in Iraq while it was taking place. A lot of people have turned around since, either due to political opportunism, the absence of WMDs, or a lack of enthusiasm at the administration's conduct of the war, but the idea that it was only the neocons who supported or helped to push for the invasion is a product of anti-war mythology that seeks to excuse the enthusiastic support of a majority of the American population for the invasion while it was occurring in order to blame the situation on a small group of individuals who can be held up as scapegoats. The problem is that the neocons, if Mark were ever allowed himself to actually read what they write, are real people rather than caricatures and the Weekly Standard (which is pure neocon, unlike National Review which actually has a fairly ideologically diverse group of conservative writers, albeit not enough so to satisfy the paleocons) broke with the administration in the summer of 2004 over the issue of Secretary Rumsfeld and the need for more troops and a very different strategy in Iraq. History has proven them correct on both issues IMO and that is an issue of fact rather than spin and at the absolute least Mark might want to recognize this. If he wants to castigate the neocons over at National Review or other publications for continuing to back the administration's strategy in Iraq, then he is of course free to do so, but that would require him to actually be familiar with their arguments instead of throwing up straw men.
It means that in a piece that criticizes neocons for beating the drums for war and then pretending they did no such thing as they attempt to blame Bush, it's stupid to rant as though this was some sort of BushHitler attack thread. Ledeen et al are being complete weasels if they want to now pretend that they did not support the war in Iraq. That's got nothing to do with

Here again, Mark is making a category mistake, one that would be clarified if he actually read Ledeen's book with a clear mind (an extremely unlikely scenario IMO). Ledeen clearly favored confronting Saddam (just as he does confronting Iran), but he does not view a massive military invasion as the appropriate means with which to do so. He wrote a book about just this, Freedom Betrayed (which Mark can also receive free too!) about the missed opportunity that the US retreat into isolationism and narcissism following the 1990s played in preventing the US from facilitating the overthrow of other totalitarian regime.

Mark then shifts from anti-war paleocon to interrogation policy without losing a beat:
Um, Bush did lie. He has said repeatedly that he has never authorized torture. That is as bald faced a lie as he could make. I say that out of respect for the Presidency, because the alternative is to suppose that our Chief Executive is such a simpleton that he honestly does not know that strappado, waterboarding, and cold cells (just to name a few of the techniques he has permitted--and in some cases *still* permits the CIA)are not torture. If he *is* that stupid, then everything his enemies say about what a dolt he is is true.

Surely you aren't going to treat the suggestion that a politician can lie as a species of blasphemy, are you, Syd?

He's a politician. They lie to protect themselves. Bush has indeed lied about torture. And if he lies about something that serious, I don't find it to be prima facie off the scale evidence of Bush hatred to think he might lie about other things to protect himself.

But I will stick to torture because that lie is clearly documented.

... A *stretch*? I think it's debatable. But as somebody who was assured personally (in January 2003) by the White House that they knew for absolutely damn certain that Iraq was bristling with WMDs, I'm afraid I don't think that calling that absolute assurance a "lie" is a "stretch'. The White House, at the very best, mistook a mutually reinforcing sense of cocksureness for "knowledge". But I'm not the only person in the world who would not find it hard to tell the difference between a liar and somebody who says, "The check's in the mail" when they have not really made certain that it is. Given the pattern of mendacity that has characterized the Administration when it comes to torture, I see no particular burden of good faith placed on the skeptic when he looks at other Administration claims.

And now, as we surge toward a "surge" that even Britain isn't buying, I'm finding my trust in Bush weaker than ever. It looks very much like Bush is sending an inadequate force in to save his face for a couple of years until he leaves office. If a bunch of people die in that pointless effort, well too bad. If you have a better reckoning of what this disastrous President is up to, lemme know.

... Sorry, but the calculated and sophisticated mendacity of the Administration regarding prisoner abuse tells against this. Bush is not the only person who has labored to enable torture and prisoner abuse. Most of the Right has. And Bush has surrounded himself with people who, on this and many other issues, have not chosen to confront him but to lie and apologize and excuse for him. If he really is so stupid that he doesn't recognize the torture he has labored to continue, then he is a moron.

I don't think he's a moron. I think he's a politician.

Only to have him shift right back on cue:
... If we are now reduced to simply propping up the Shiites in a civil war (which was the clear message of the Saddam execution as even Krauthammer acknowledged), then it's time for us to leave. So, in answer to your question: "decrease a lot, right now." Sending our troops to die for Moqtada al-Sadr is not why went to Iraq.

Now there's quite a lot to address here, some of it an anachronistic. Mark had already determined that Bush was lying/misleading/whatever on WMDs before he came to his current view on interrogation. Indeed, the absence of WMDs and the belief that he had been personally deceived by the White House were among the main reasons that he has cited in his determination that Iraq does not the criteria of Just War.

One of the things that also needs to be taken into account with regard to Mark's view of the administration is that the practice of rendition that I assume is being referenced concerning the CIA predates the Bush administration by some time. Now one might argue that it has not been utilized nearly as much (it certainly wasn't under the Clinton administration), but in most cases this is because the United States wasn't seriously interested in fighting international terrorism. Bush is, and I tend to attribute many of the oddities that have surrounded US detention policies (al-Qaeda fighters captured in the US are criminals to be prosecuted, al-Qaeda fighters captured overseas are enemy combatants) over the last several years to the fact that he is trying to fight the enemy the way that the world really is rather than the way that the Hague and the Davos crowd wish that it could be. Ultimately, I think that we will have to standardize new procedures for dealing with our enemies - Alan Dershowitz has tried to do just that, but I'm agnostic as to whether or not his methodology is sound or would be accepted. I don't think that this is all that revolutionary either, as the Geneva Conventions have been revised on multiple occasions since their inception.

As far as Iraq goes, I continue to think that the United States has an obligation to continue our efforts there. So does the Vatican, whose prudential political views on this issue Mark seems to feel a lot less apt to quote on such matters. Rather than sneering in self-righteousness that the continuing violence only serves to demonstrate the impracticality of the venture, I think we have an obligation to try that much harder to succeed. Unlike Mark, I don't see this as a trendy exercise in nation-building but rather a key front in the war against al-Qaeda and the Iranians' proxy Muqtada al-Sadr. Maybe it's because I'm reading too much of Bill Roggio or the Washington Times, but I don't think that war is like a TV show where it gets canceled if too many people change the channel. Instead, I think that a lot of political class does not regard itself as being at war or in any real jeopardy, otherwise they would not consider the West's culpability in any violence that occurs as the primary question to be asked following its outbreak. They have made no effort over the last 5 years to inform the American people and as I said after the elections, a lot of innocent people are going to die as a result. But during the interlude, I'm sure Mark can go back to fighting the real enemies ... the neocons and local libraries.

Hi, ho, hum ...

First of all, let me address the charges Mark brings against me:
there is much excitement over the "anathemas" I hurled last week concerning the execution of Saddam. Those readers with memories shorter than a fruit fly's will remember those stern anathemas, such as when I severed men's souls from the hope of the redeeming grace of God by answering the question "What did you think of the execution?" with, "I think we should listen to our Mother. Unless absolutely necessary, don't execute people. My *opinion* is that it was not absolutely necessary in the case of Saddam, but I recognize others have legit differences with that opinion. I have no problem with that."

Pretty withering self-righteousness that. If you can find something else in what I wrote that constitutes an anathema, please let me know.

I was basically referring to this:
Do I think some who supported execution were so motivated? Of course. But one need not look very far in cyberspace to find the overwhelming majority of commentary from the average pro-death penalty comboxer on your average news site to be marked, not by sober discussions of the nature of Justice according to St. Thomas, but by glee, gloating, and nakedly expressed hopes that Saddam not only die, but that he go to hell. One is hard pressed to believe that the millions of people who accessed the video of his execution did so out of a saintly desire to pray for his soul and not out of a fascination with and joy over his death. Call this what you like, but I think we kid ourselves if we believe that this is somehow furthering the mission of Christ in the world.

So, unlike most of the conservative Catholic blogosphere, I wasn't particularly bent out of shape by the Vatican press guy's denunciation of the execution. In point of fact, it did not meet the stringent prudential criteria that Evangelium Vitae gives for execution, and I'm just fine with that fact that Rome pointed that out. Many conservatives had various levels of denunciation for Rome on this. Some were disappointed. Some called the condemnation "prissy". I found myself thinking, "On the whole, I'd just as soon Rome be on the side of mercy as not." Yeah, the Vatican statement was not worded with exact theological precision. So what? At the end of the day, Rome came down on the side of not killing more people unnecessarily and I'm glad of it. Meanwhile, the conservative wing of St. Blog's tended, it seemed to me, to try to conform the Church's teaching to the national narrative rather than try to conform the national narrative to the Church's teaching. Yes, I recognize that the death penalty is not intrinsically immoral. Yes, I recognize that, in terms of strict justice, Saddam got what was coming to him and the state had the right to impose it. But I am haunted by the notion that the gospel is about more than the imposition of the bare strict minimum of what we have coming to us.

... Beyond the curious spectacle of right wing blogosphere gleefully rejoicing over the death of Saddam (I mean the whole right wing blogosphere, not St. Blogs), and the biblical quotations about justice (but not the quotations that say "I the Lord take no joy in the death of the wicked") and the earnest wishes for eternal hellfire as we celebrate the Birth of the Redeemer, my difficulties are prudential as well. From a purely practical perspective, we have achieved one thing: giving an Iraqi culture that is absolutely drunk on vengeance and reprisal one more big stiff drink. This seems to me like trying to cure an alcoholic by buying him a tavern. It will not do one damn bit of good to the Iraqis. At best it will simply be Reason #39485734985375 for yet another round of vengeance killings. But it did make a good end of year news cycle moment in a war that is increasingly sparse on good news. And Saddam will no be missed by many people. So why not?

... Much is made, as I have already pointed out, of the term "prudential judgment" in approaching what is admittedly not a dogma but more on the order of a counsel. As somebody who does not take a Minimum Daily Adult Requirement approach to the Church's teaching, I think that when Holy Mother Church says, "X is a good idea" it's generally wise to listen to Holy Mother Church even when she does not preface it with "We declare, pronounce, and define..."

Some Catholics are fine with this. The reasons for this vary. Some already oppose the death penalty on other grounds and, in fact, go further than the Church by trying to say the Church errs in permitting it at all. I think they are wrong both for theological reasons (i.e. Scripture clearly permits it at times) and for practical reasons (sometimes people just need killing for the common good). Some agree with the Church's teaching as it is laid out in Evangelium Vitae.

But some, at the end of the day, are very uncomfortable with the Church's teaching. And some flatly reject it. Indeed, some even lie about it and try to claim that it is a rejection of and a contradiction to previous Church teaching. Some declare JPII a heretic and routinely label any bishop who articulates the Church's teaching a Euro-weenie, a liberal, etc. The usual reactionary blah blah.

This was what I was intending to reference when I wrote "thus have missed Mark's latest anathema sits against all of St. Blogs and the entire conservative blogosphere for disagreeing with him over the issue of Saddam's execution and the death penalty in general." I intended to use anathema sit as a term of hyperbole rather than theological percision and in particular I strongly object to his characterization that the conservative wing of St. Blogs is motivated purely by politics in their desire to part ways with Rome on the need to execute Saddam Hussein. When added with his second post that seemed to indicate that those that parted ways with him on this were only engaging in what he terms "a Minimum Daily Adult Requirement approach to the Church's teaching," (and that certainly seemed to me to be what he was saying) I took issue with that and thought that it was worth it to note it.

Also, in both his comment here and the blog entry, Mark has referred to me as "Chris." I have no idea who this is intended to be, but if he thinks he has learned my secret identity he has little idea of just how funny this is.

As far as Mark's comment about my making a distinction between torture and prisoner abuse, if he had read rather than "skimmed" my post he would note that the point I was trying to make was:
... Mark makes a false conflation between prisoner abuse and torture (there is a difference between the former and the latter), just as he conflates disagreement with him and his bad arguments on Catholic teaching to a desire to condone torture.

Which it's pretty clear that he didn't understand either because he seems to be saying that I am "So bent on defending the indefensible that you just don't care anymore how silly your defenses sound." I never defended the fake baptism as described in the article and would note that my identification of it as prisoner abuse as evidence that I probably don't support the practice.

Fake baptism

Shea has a multiple-choice test:
Are you:
a) Majoring in minors?
b) Spectacularly obtuse?
c) So bent on defending the indefensible that you just don't care anymore how silly your defenses sound?
d) all of the above?
Actually (e) none of the above. Torq can speak for myself (and has, somewhat). But I have said nothing, by choice, on the matter of the fake-priest "allegations" (which the article, by the way, does not say were condoned or approved even if they happened). An important distinction one would think.

To explain why I said nothing: here is Shea's initial post (I knew nothing of the "allegation" previously, and neither did anyone else, hence the Washington Post calling it "previously unreported.")
The military brass, bless 'em, tightened the regs to make this stuff much harder to get away with (even as Vice Glorious Leader Cheney labored to loosen the regs and make it easier). In all the torture discussions here, stuff like this was blown off as unworthy of mention. No bones broken. No tissue damaged permanently. Hell, it's just a little frat hazing according to Limbaugh. And Catholics on my blog have labored to excuse it as well. So I think it a kind of poetic justice to see something like this. If you are going to commit grave evil, particularly in an age when Catholics are swift to excuse it in obedience to our National Greatness Narrative then I think it is only fitting that the one doing the evil should make it crystal clear to Catholics who condone prisoner abuse just what it is they are condoning.
(VJM: I put a break here because at this point I really stopped paying attention, though the term "fog" clinches the intended identification.)
If prisoner abuse continues to vanish from view in a fog of euphemism about "aggressive interrogation tactics" and "national security", perhaps the vision of a false Catholic priest in vestments playing satanic black metal and mocking the sacraments will finally get a Catholic's attention and make him suspect that all is not well.
Of course, given that at the point Shea is expelling this dribble, neither Torq nor myself had said Word One about fake baptisms, one would wonder how he knows "just what it is they are condoning." Never mind his hyperbolic (though not by his standards) mind-reading about narratives and glorious-leader blah, blah, blah. And at the same time I first read it, there was this in the combox from one of Shea's new friends, Morning's Minion.
I felt nauseous when I read this. But I am sure the Fog Coalition will find a way to defend it.
When people have decided they can attribute ideas to you before you've said Word One on the subject (so, Shea doesn't even his "skim" excuse) ... well, what's the use? My honest reaction, excuse my french, was "fuck it. They can think what they like. They have no interest in what I actually think in reality, and what I actually think in reality is all I could rebut it with. They can have their lies and their straw men. Nobody whom I care about believes them."

There are things in this life not worth responding to and Shavian straw-men (except to the extent they may have entertainment value) are among them.

Free advice, Shea. You want me to say X about some topic? (1) Don't say it yourself; (2) Don't lie about me or put words in my mouth about the topic while doing it; and (3) Don't demand that I prove my religious bona-fides by jumping through a hoop on the topic. The first makes it less likely. The second and third will ensure I won't.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

I would put it a different way, Torq

"If not Saddam, who?"

I think that's why some churchmen have come under such harsh criticism over the Saddam execution and deservedly so. That Saddam Hussein was a case that an ordinary person might think could meet the requirements of a just execution if any case could ... and the reaction from the Vatican was still "no." (And appallingly argued, as Jimmy Akin points out.)

Shea might be surprised to note that I substantially agree with him on the death penalty in the ideal. I accept that the Church teaches what he calls "death-penalty minimalism," and can only think of two cases where I'd absolutely support it (the political tyrant/revolutionary and the already-serving-life case). Or as commenter cmatt put it: "Do we have to?" The problem is that many liberal Catholics and not a few First-World bishops and Vatican curial officials have indicated by their opposition to Saddam's execution that they will never accept "yes" as the answer to that question.

This is why the Church's protests over the Saddam Hussein execution generated such unease among conservative Catholics and outright contempt among non-Catholic conservatives. We are dealing with (1) a country without a stable, secure prison system (a clear presupposition of what John Paul said in EV); (2) a country with significant guerrilla movements, some of which would like to put Saddam back in power when the US leaves; and (3) a man collossally unrepentant to the end (one good thing about the video ... it removes all doubt about that, even assuming the trial itself hadn't). Yes, I accept in principle Shea's distinction between "minimalist" and "abolitionist." But if a self-declared minimalist cannot find the necessity in the case of Saddam Hussein, he will be seen quite justifiably as an abolitionist arguing in bad faith. And, at least potentially, might not be listened to next time, when mercy might actually be the wiser counsel for the secular state. See if you think the following exchange sounds at all outlandish or implausible:
Governor: Smith is scheduled to get the chair next week. Any outside appeals for clemency?
Press Secretary: Well, here's a cable from the Vatican, a Cardinal Martino. Says we should show mercy toward Smith as God does toward us.
Governor: Isn't that the guy who called hanging Saddam Hussein a crime and said that having a death penalty is uncivilized?
Press Secretary: Yep.
Governor: File 13. Anyone else?
Promiscuity devalues more than sex.

It's also surely not irrelevant that this comes at a time when it's becoming harder and harder to credit the good faith of death-penalty opponents. For example, their efforts on the appeals side means it takes decades to execute death sentences. But then in a stunning case of bad faith, death-penalty opponents will then sometimes turn around and argue that these lengthy delays and the associated costs constitute reason for clemency in given cases or even for abolishing the penalty outright.¹ It's hard to avoid the conclusion that we're dealing with an adolescent fit or a game of "heads-I-win-tails-you-lose," not an intellectual argument. That's the reason for some of the conservative exulting -- people were reacting to a clear-cut case of justice being done swiftly, surely and unmistakably, away from the animadversions of the ACLU, the jurist class and the Vatican, which the last 30 years have given us every reason to distrust. To riff off cmatt -- it was refreshing not to have to go through ...
Do we have to?
But what about X?
It doesn't matter.
Do we have to?
But what about Y?
It doesn't matter.
Do we have to?
But what about X?
It doesn't matter.
Do we have to?
Have you considered X?
Do we have to?
But what about Y?
It doesn't matter.
Do we have to?
Have you considered Y?
Do we have to?
Have you considered X?
Do we have to?
But what about X?
It doesn't matter.
Have you really considered Y?
Do we have to?
Have you really considered X?
Do we have to?
Still, Shea being Shea ... I wonder what the logic can be in dismissing imprecision in a statement by the Church as irrelevant ("Yeah, the Vatican statement was not worded with exact theological precision. So what?") while in the same breath drawing conclusions that demand a standard of precise Thomistic reasoning in the reactions of ordinary people ("the overwhelming majority of commentary from the average pro-death penalty comboxer on your average news site [was] marked, not by sober discussions of the nature of Justice according to St. Thomas ..."). Comboxes are held to a higher standard of intellectual precision than Vatican statements?!?!?
¹ And this isn't merely once of a host of cases of bad-faith. The liberals of the world spent years demanding lethal injection (wrongly in my view) as more humane than other execution methods, and then now it has become near-universal, turn around and attack it as barbarous and ... gasp ... painful. They argue from supposed racial disparities to executing nobody, though patently it is at least as good an argument for executing more whites or killers of blacks. They also argue against the inhumanity of SuperMax and isolation prisons, and the lack of parole in dealing with non-capital crimes, though surely life-without-parole has to be the alternative sentence to death in those cases that "deserve" death. The "Innocence Project" lies about what "innocence" means. In the 60s, liberals attacked the death penalty as ad-hoc and standardless, and then when criteria were spelled out in the 70s, they attacked them as automatic and lacking discretion and judgment of given cases. When the subject is race or education, IQ and other standardized tests are socially constructed tests of whiteness that measure nothing other than the ability to take IQ tests and stigmatize those who do badly on them, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. But the IQ tests of death-row inmates are holy-writ on the somehow-not-socially-constructed notions of "retardation" and "mental age."

Saturday, January 06, 2007

The Coalition returns for the new year!

I have been away from the holidays, and thus have missed Mark's latest anathema sits against all of St. Blogs and the entire conservative blogosphere for disagreeing with him over the issue of Saddam's execution and the death penalty in general. So let me just try to state this as succinctly as possible.

Irrespective of the numerous political reasons why Saddam needed to be killed, I think that trying to argue that his execution is unwarranted as a matter of Catholic teaching is exceedingly wrong-headed. As long as he was alive, he continued to serve as an active and willing rallying point for his followers that sought to restore him to power. That was the whole goal of al-Awda (the Return, i.e. the Return of Saddam), which back in 2003 was one of the leading Baathist groups in the insurgency. And while they have since been replaced by al-Qaeda in Iraq, they are still active and still killing people today. So even without taking into account his enormous crimes against the people of Iraq and their neighbors, I think you can make a fairly compelling case for executing Saddam on grounds of the public good. Your average criminal is not going to have followers carrying out violence with the goal of securing his release as long as he was imprisoned, whereas Saddam's were. Under the circumstances, I'm not seeing a problem here. The idea that to execute someone is to deny the efficacy of God to carry out justice is both a red herring and very bad theology - taken to its logical conclusion, that would mean that we shouldn't have any laws or punishments whatsoever. As I believe it says in the Catechism, God has chosen not exercise all sovereignty Himself.

Also, this has been bugging me for some time but Mark really needs to cool his inner integralist the next time he denounces conservative blogosphere for not following the teachings of the Catholic Church. As he seems to recognize whenever he is dealing with, say, Jonah Goldberg (unless he's also be subject to anathema sit), a lot of conservatives aren't Catholics, so it isn't surprising that they aren't going to be in synch with the Church when it comes to issues of morality. A lot of them probably don't follow the Church's teaching on Petrine primacy or contraception either. Why we should expect otherwise when we believe that the Church is the summit of truth (thereby implying that others would have less access to it than we do) is beyond me.

Now that all said, the manner in which Saddam's execution took place was extremely bad politically. Here's why: beyond angering all the usual suspects in the West (of whom Mark is now unfortunately among, given his creeping paleoconservatism), by allowing Muqtada al-Sadr's thugs (and al-Sadr himself?) to oversee the execution, al-Sadr and not the Iraqi government are going to get credit for killing Saddam Hussein, giving him even further prestige as he seeks to position himself in a position of leadership in Iraq.

I really can't add much to Tom Connelly's response (quoting David Frum) to Mark's idiotic remarks about neocons now being critical of President Bush:
Where did this idea come from that either you must support and applaud everything the administration has done in Iraq - or else you must turn your back on the whole thing? Intense debate over strategy and tactics is exactly what you would expect in a democracy at war. Those who support a war's aims do not always or even usually support every element of a war's execution.

Of course, if Mark care enough to pay attention to what the neocons were saying, he might recognize that Bill Kristol and the Weekly Standard have been calling for more troops and Rumsfeld's removal since the summer of 2004. And then there is the issue (unanswered in the combox) as to why neocons becoming critical of the administration's conduct of the war is any different from Mark. The answer: because the neocons still want to win in Iraq, whereas Mark appears to have more or less given up on victory in the war on terrorism as a practical matter until Western culture readjusts itself to a point he regards as healthy. Thank God his attitude was not prevalent in the 1940s, when all manner of religious, racial, and class bigotry every bit as inimical to Catholic values predominated American society.

As for this, Mark makes a false conflation between prisoner abuse and torture (there is a difference between the former and the latter), just as he conflates disagreement with him and his bad arguments on Catholic teaching to a desire to condone torture. Until he can wrap these differences around his head (an event I expect will result in a Nomad-like collapse of his internal reasoning), he isn't going to be able to do more than demagogue when it comes to this issue ... which has pretty much been what he's been doing since it became clear that he isn't willing to argue substantively because he believes that anyone who disagrees with him (and isn't a prominent Catholic apologist) is motivated only by politics.