Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Krugman Reconsidered: Is Half A Loaf Really Better Than None At All?

The last time I mentioned Paul Krugman, I pointed out places where I agreed with him, but I didn't point out any places where I disagreed. That was a telltale sign of fatigue (or maybe laziness) on my part, but it did lead to an interesting discussion, so it wasn't an entirely lost cause.

I don't go looking for Krugman's columns, but every now and then I do stumble across one, and when that happens, I usually stop and read it. I often find a lot of truth in his columns, but it's always mixed in with a lot of other stuff too. So that brings up a good question: What about the other stuff? What do we do with that?

This is where we get into the realm of personal taste and I don't mean to imply that my way is better than anyone else's, but what I do with the other stuff depends on what it is. If it's mildly annoying or simply irrelevant filler then I tend to disregard it. On the other hand if it's dripping blood then it can hardly be ignored.

Krugman's column for today is called "Fearing Fear Itself" and it contains a great deal of truth. But there's some other stuff too, and it's dripping! As bad if not worse, there's important stuff missing, and that's dripping, as well.

Here's the piece in full, with [restrained] comments interspersed:

"Fearing Fear Itself" or (here)
In America’s darkest hour, Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged the nation not to succumb to “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.” But that was then.

Today, many of the men who hope to be the next president — including all of the candidates with a significant chance of receiving the Republican nomination — have made unreasoning, unjustified terror the centerpiece of their campaigns.
The same can be true of "all of the candidates with a significant chance of receiving" the Democratic nomination as well. In both parties, the few candidates who do not make "unreasoning, unjustified terror the centerpiece of their campaigns" are being systematically marginalized -- or simply ignored.
Consider, for a moment, the implications of the fact that Rudy Giuliani is taking foreign policy advice from Norman Podhoretz, who wants us to start bombing Iran “as soon as it is logistically possible.”
Consider, for a moment, the implications of the fact that Rudy Giuliani is taken seriously as a candidate. Consider the implications of the fact that Rudy Giuliani is not in prison!
Mr. Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary and a founding neoconservative, tells us that Iran is the “main center of the Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11.” The Islamofascists, he tells us, are well on their way toward creating a world “shaped by their will and tailored to their wishes.” Indeed, “Already, some observers are warning that by the end of the 21st century the whole of Europe will be transformed into a place to which they give the name Eurabia.”

Do I have to point out that none of this makes a bit of sense?

For one thing, there isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination. The term came into vogue only because it was a way for Iraq hawks to gloss over the awkward transition from pursuing Osama bin Laden, who attacked America, to Saddam Hussein, who didn’t.
We were told that Osama bin Laden attacked America on 9/11, but the FBI was never convinced, and neither am I. In which case, both wars -- in Afghanistan as well as Iraq -- are illegitimate!
And Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 — in fact, the Iranian regime was quite helpful to the United States when it went after Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.
Exactly. Most modern states are "quite helpful" to anyone who is pounding on any of their neighbors -- with or without 9/11. Which by the way was an inside job, as can be clearly seen. As could be clearly seen on the day. I digress, perhaps, but this is the heart of the bloody lie. The "awkward transition" Krugman describes was the transition between between pretending to hunt for Osama bin Laden, who had been blamed for 9/11, and then invading Iraq in order to overthrow Saddam Hussein, who had not.
Beyond that, the claim that Iran is on the path to global domination is beyond ludicrous. Yes, the Iranian regime is a nasty piece of work in many ways, and it would be a bad thing if that regime acquired nuclear weapons. But let’s have some perspective, please: we’re talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut, and a government whose military budget is roughly the same as Sweden’s.

Meanwhile, the idea that bombing will bring the Iranian regime to its knees — and bombing is the only option, since we’ve run out of troops — is pure wishful thinking. Last year Israel tried to cripple Hezbollah with an air campaign, and ended up strengthening it instead. There’s every reason to believe that an attack on Iran would produce the same result, with the added effects of endangering U.S. forces in Iraq and driving oil prices well into triple digits.
Triple-digit oil prices, of course, would suit some people just fine!
Mr. Podhoretz, in short, is engaging in what my relatives call crazy talk. Yet he is being treated with respect by the front-runner for the G.O.P. nomination.
Right. And that's because he speaks code, and unless you understand the code, you don't get the message.

The point of Podhoretz’s message is not rational analysis of verifiable intelligence. He's trying to provide a plausible justification for something he and his audience have wanted to do for years.
And Mr. Podhoretz’s rants are, if anything, saner than some of what we’ve been hearing from some of Mr. Giuliani’s rivals.
Well ... that's debatable. But in the meantime, what have we been hearing from Hillary Clinton and some of her rivals? Mr. Krugman doesn't want to talk about that, does he?

Actually, he does touch on it, tangentially, as we will see. But first he has more to say about the Elephant hopefuls:
Thus, in a recent campaign ad Mitt Romney asserted that America is in a struggle with people who aim “to unite the world under a single jihadist Caliphate. To do that they must collapse freedom-loving nations. Like us.” He doesn’t say exactly who these jihadists are, but presumably he’s referring to Al Qaeda — an organization that has certainly demonstrated its willingness and ability to kill innocent people, but has no chance of collapsing the United States, let alone taking over the world.
Not to mention another force which has "certainly demonstrated its willingness and ability to kill innocent people", which seems bent on "taking over the world" and which is not only capable of "collapsing the United States" but doing so as we speak.
And Mike Huckabee, whom reporters like to portray as a nice, reasonable guy, says that if Hillary Clinton is elected, “I’m not sure we’ll have the courage and the will and the resolve to fight the greatest threat this country’s ever faced in Islamofascism.” Yep, a bunch of lightly armed terrorists and a fourth-rate military power — which aren’t even allies — pose a greater danger than Hitler’s panzers or the Soviet nuclear arsenal ever did.

All of this would be funny if it weren’t so serious.
That's quite true, but the degree of seriousness does not appear to have dawned on Mr. Krugman.
In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration adopted fear-mongering as a political strategy. Instead of treating the attack as what it was — an atrocity committed by a fundamentally weak, though ruthless adversary — the administration portrayed America as a nation under threat from every direction.
If the Bush administration were willing to treat "the attack as what it was" then it would have begun an immediate investigation to find out what it was. The fact that they didn't do so shows us quite clearly what the attack was. It also shows us that our adversary is ruthless, and fundamentally very powerful.
Most Americans have now regained their balance. But the Republican base, which lapped up the administration’s rhetoric about the axis of evil and the war on terror, remains infected by the fear the Bushies stirred up — perhaps because fear of terrorists maps so easily into the base’s older fears, including fear of dark-skinned people in general.

And the base is looking for a candidate who shares this fear.
But this is another fallacy, because it's not a matter of what the base is looking for. It's a matter of what options are going to be allowed; the base will choose one of a virtually identical set.
Just to be clear, Al Qaeda is a real threat, and so is the Iranian nuclear program. But neither of these threats frightens me as much as fear itself — the unreasoning fear that has taken over one of America’s two great political parties.
Well... Just to be clear and reality-based, al Qaeda is a vastly overblown threat, and so is the Iranian nuclear program. But neither of these threats frightens me as much as America's two great political parties.

And to be clear and reality-based again, the unreasoning fear has not taken over either of America’s two great political parties. It's being used, by both parties -- and by Krugman himself -- as a political weapon.

In order for fear to work as a political tool, there must be vast and general ignorance, and with this piece Krugman contributes to that ignorance in a number of ways. If he were inclined to apply his critical thinking skills to the foreign policy positions of the leading donkey hopefuls, then we might be able to say he was making a contribution. But even more importantly, what if he were willing review the official story of 9/11 and say
Do I have to point out that none of this makes a bit of sense?
In other words, what if Paul Krugman were willing call the bogus GWOT "what it is", i.e. bogus?

Then what?

It would make a big splash, for a day or two ... and when the dust cleared, Paul Krugman would be a former columnist!

This is the "liberal media" we're talking about, remember?

Do you think he knows that, or not?

John Lennon said it better than I could, in "Working Class Hero":
There's room at the top, they are telling you still
But first you must learn how to smile as you kill
If you want to be like the folks on the hill
And to answer my headline question:

Half a loaf is much worse than none at all, if it's poisoned!