For some reason, my latest diary discussing the doctrine of disproportionate force, as embraced by Hunter, has led to new meta-discussions about purity trolls, and a lot of accusations being hurled around. I would like to address several points again.
First, some words of contrition:
- I probably should have avoided the direct comparison with Cheney. I see this from an ocean away, and from this perspective, there is a lot of apparent proximity between all Americans on how to react to 9/11 - in particular with respect to the legitimacy of the use of "dispropotionate force". Hunter's post does reflect that (to contemporary Europeans, mysterious) casual willingness by America to use force in many circumstances. And this is something that unites people outside of America, and which explains the current hostility to America prevalent in most countries of the world. But in the US context, which is where DailyKos is, the difference between the left and Dick Cheney is quite stark, and that comparison was offensive, irrespective of whatever national consensus there may be on one issue, as I should know - and do know. So I have apologized privately to Hunter for these words, and now do so publicly.
- similarly, the initial title of the diary ("how DailyKos also helps Al Qaida") was needlessly inflammatory, and i have similarly apologised to Hunter and repeat that apology now.
That said, I'd like to come back to the content of my diary, and to some reactions to it.
My diary was not about pacifism, and it was not about Afghanistan. It was, as I stated above, about the doctrine of disproportionate force. I have been accused of taking Hunter's words out of their context, and I vigorously contest that.
Here are his exact words (emphasis mine)
Like most Americans, I considered American actions in Afghanistan to be a dismal but necessary act. An attack on United States soil requires, unequivocally, a disproportionate response; a valid military response in this case would have indeed been a removal of the Taliban from power, the complete and total removal of al Qaeda from Afghanistan and in any other countries in which they had found refuge, and a generous reconstruction of Afghanistan in such a fashion as to ensure al Qaeda's continued inability to function there, thus demonstrating that terrorism against the United States would both fail in its purpose, and would result in disproportionate damage to the terrorists and hostile nations responsible. That's how you prevent terrorism: you make the consequences worse than the possible upside.
That proposition, supported by nearly all Americans, lasted mere months, however, before the Bush administration's eyes wandered away from the actual fight against al Qaeda and supporters and towards a large scale proxy war advocated by Rumsfeld and by neoconservative strategists looking to transfer American attention to the war they had wanted to fight, rather than the war they were actually in.
He repeats several times the same concepts, so I cannot be accused of focusing on one word and misinterpreting his words. He is arguing that (i) disproportionate force is necessary against ANY attack on the US, and that (ii) such disproportionate force is the only way to deter terrorists. He then uses that doctrine in the particular case of Afghanistan. He also accepts the notion that what followed 9/11 had to be a "war", to be fought with military means.
My argument was not about his conclusion (the war on Afghanistan was necessary) but about his premise (disproportionate reaction is necessary, and will deter further attacks). I actually happen to think that the attack on Afghanistan was justified (as did the United Nations, btw) - just not by the doctrine Hunter professes. I also stated that use of force could be justified, within a clear wider political strategy. But I find the doctrine of overwhelming force, as such, and as brought to an extreme by the Bush administration, and as obviously shared to a large extent by many in America, extraordinarily dangerous and an obstacle to peace in many parts of the world. How that was turned into a discussion about pacifism purity or about saying that I thought that America should not have reacted to 9/11 is beyond me.
That stated, I'd like to get back to the more meta topic of purity, which Hunter himself (and others elsewhere) flagged as the main culprit here:
I don't give a damn about the argument over the Afghanistan war. It is a perfectly legitimate argument. Pacifism is a legitimate and -- when the pacifism is real, and not put on as simple show -- noble belief.
It is the method of argumentation here that I find so unforgivabe. Strawmanism is rewarded; false information, encouraged; false polarizations, celebrated as indistinguishable from wisdom. Black and white are the only allowed colors: anyone engaging anywhere between is, in the blunt and informative words of the diarist, "on the same side as Cheney".
That's it. You are allowed to be on the extreme left, or you are the enemy. No nuance need apply, because just as in Orwell's world, we are becoming ever more proud of losing the meanings of words. You are either a Pacifist, or Cheney. All the words inbetween have been removed by stupid people, stupid, shallow, hollow people whose need for ego outweighs whatever situation they may find themselves in.
I used first the words 'on the side of Cheney", so I take my share of the responsibility for the breakdown of dailogue, but the above still strikes me as patently lacking nuance. You know the old joke about people being separated into two kinds - those that separate people in two kinds, and those that don't. That's where we are today, with both sides accusing the other of being absolutist.
It is possible to have very ambitious ("pure") goals but to be pragmatic in taking what gets you somewhat closer to that. It's possible to agree with the pragmatists on the short term steps that should be taken to make progress without losing sight of longer term goal. It is possible to use purists as an argument against the other side to make concessions ('deal with reasonable me, and give me enough, or you'll have to deal with the crazies on my side'). However, it is also necessary to have basic principles and values that you stick to in all circumstances. In Kos's case, for instance, it is to get Democrats elected. Should we call him a purity troll for focusing relentlessly on that goal, at the cost sometimes of policy purity, because he thinks, not unreasonably, that a Democratic majority will bring better results, even if individual Democrats may hold ideas we don't like? Similary, we should not call those that focus on policy of being purity trolls for reminding us what the long terms goals of Democrats could and/or should be.
Which brings us back to the issue of tone. If we're all on the same side, as I'm arguing right now, there's no need to resort to insulting comparisons or other harsh words, right? To which I can only agree, and reiterate my apologies above, with several provisos. The most important (call it the "BTD rule"): those that criticize others viciously cannot call the purity troll police when they are similarly attacked - consistency matters. The other (call it the "I'm me rule") is that diarists should not be blamed for what commenters in their threads state.
Another thing is that front pagers have a more portentous voice than others - they get to bring their ideas on the front page, and have a strong recognition that ensures that their comments will be noted too. While there are good reasons for them to be on the front page, including a tough selection process, it does not mean that they are necessarily right on everything. It does make it harder for those that disagree with them to be heard, however, as these voices have to make it to the reclist for each individual argument, and then have to face a possible onslaught of "friends of the front pager" (note - see this comment about what i mean by "friend"). Provocative diaries and titles are one way to get some attention to arguments otherwise neglected on the front page. It's sometimes over the top and unpleasant (and I plead guilty on both counts), but it's the way the site works. The massive support that diarists like OPOL, MSOC or myself get when we voice supposedly pure or supposedly extremist ideas should be a signal that there is a desire for some balance in the ideas that are being brought forward on the site. And front pagers repeatedly insulting posters is unlikely to signal anything other than that these large swathes of opinion are unwelcome on dkos (and it makes protests about the tone of the site ring somewhat hollow). Most regulars can be assumed to share the stated goal of the site. Their disagreement on various issues of substance are not to be taken as betrayal of these stated goals.
In my case, I additionally bring a foreigner's perspective. As far as I know, the site is not reserved to Americans, although it sometimes feels that way when you see the scorn and hate regularly sent in my direction just because I'm French. I don't mind, it's a small price to pay to be able to participate in one of the most fascinating and significant movements in world politics today. But as long as I'm welcome here, I'll also bring my (left of center) outsider's perspective on America, and ideas that may be foreign to US liberals, and I'll say things as I see them. That does not mean that I do not respect the purported goal of the site (getting Democrats elected) - quite the contrary. I think, and that's just my opinion, that bringing different perspectives and information can help that goal. I've taken pains to avoid stepping into issues that should not require the opinion of foreigners. In any case, you're all free to ignore or discard my words if you disagree. Doing so just because I'm a foreigner or because you think I'm an attention addict is pretty sad, though. I don't think I have to prove my loyalty to the site any more. I participated to the movement that is now getting kossacks involved in proposing draft legislation to senior Congresspersons. I'm proud of that, and it's coherent with everything I've ever written here.
"Purists" and "pragmatists" are both necessary, and they help one another. Tensions between the two groups (which can be very different as the topic changes) are inevitable, and they often reflect genuine differences of opinion. Talking about them is the best - indeed the only - way to bridge the gap to some extent and to make it possible for all to unite towards the same goal - or at least towards enough common goals. Pragmatists need the "threat" created by the purists to achieve better outcomes in the real world. Purists need the pragmatists to actually get things done and bring policies in the right direction. Nobody need be happy about the process. Neither group is an noxious to the site.
Politics are fractious, frustrating and painful. There is no other way. Only one thing is certain: those that do not participate will lose out.