November 20, 2004

Tired Tina

Does this tiresome tripe bother others too, or is just me? I find it so lame. But maybe it's just me being cranky after a long week?

The psychiatrist Hadassah Brooks Morgan says that John Kerry's defeat, coming on the heels of the Yankees' collapse in the playoffs against the Red Sox, plunged many of her patients into near-catatonic distress. "In my whole 40 years of practice here I have never heard patients as bereft by a result as this," she told me on the phone. "There was a feeling in session after session of the insult to one's tribe, a loss of purpose and direction. For men, their sports team being beaten at the same time made them feel New York is no longer the command center, no longer the winning city they identify with or that so many people move here to find...

...What makes it worse is all the political news booming away out there. The Bush Cabinet reshuffle is like a percussion band playing in the room next door when you're trying to sleep. All that crashing and banging of big careers and exiting reputations -- will somebody please turn it off? Don't they know politics is over? Can't they take a damn breather from running the world.

I wish I could just say that this is just a case of my B.S. detector booming--Tina Brown just full of it. Alas, however, Brown does represent and/or describe a certain Manhattan zeitgeist with somewhat broad reach. Call it Central Park West with certain limousine liberal enclaves of the Upper East Side thrown in (not to mention bourgeoisie & boutique laden parts Tribeca and central Soho). In these precincts, how dare the Texan chimp ruin the good times with his war-mongering? And those dastardly dangerous old men Antonin, Dick and Don. They are conspiring to keep utopic, post-Kantian conditions at bay. Well, again, how dare they!

Maureen Dowd is their spokeswoman--and Tina so kindly takes their pulse for us--thinking she's being so cute and amusing. OK, so people just want to "turn off" politics; and take a "breather from running the world." There's another V.F. party to go to, after all! Graydon's hair looks great--and another B actress is all porned out in Galliano. Whoppie! So enough already about dullards Colin and Condi.

Yawn. My favorite city in the world (Manhattan, particularly) has gotten somewhat boring, hasn't it? The days of intellectual ferment appear long gone. A search for the "Truth", of course, is passe and considered risibly ancien. Hipness is the new religion and collective pursuit. And artists have become, so often, rank pimps and hustlers--bustling about west Chelsea looking for the next con (no, I'm not talking about the many valiant ones toiling away in anonymity). If I move back someday--shall I have to hunker down in Brooklyn--far from the cretinous hullaballo Brown chronicles? Probably, all told. Pull up the drawbridge 'cross the river...Still, and worth recalling, the epoch-shaping event of 9/11 happened in lower Manhattan, of course. It remains a key and sober firmament (especially for those living there that day) in the life of the City. And therefore many of the city's residents realize, very much so, that politics still matters a helluva lot. All those people taking the subways every day, trapped in midnight work marathons, downing a couple Scotches after a hard week--they have real moorings, real perspective. What do I mean? I mean that these teeming masses of city-dwellers have more back-bone, more character, more spirit than the flabby, whiney, shrink-at-the-ready world Brown describes. They don't need to rush to the neighborhood psychiatrist because the Yankees lost, or because the buffoonish Red Stater trumped Kerry, or because La Caravelle closed (OK, this last a pity, it should be noted). They keep plugging away with near manic intensity through myriad industries and walks of life--making New York the premier city on the planet--and ultimately proving a stolid rebuff to the vapidity of the millieu Brown sketches. Amen for that, and excuse the rant. (And, er, don't worry. I'm actually a pretty relaxed guy. We'll be returning to our normally scheduled programming soon...)

Posted by Gregory at November 20, 2004 01:06 AM

How are Hadassah Brooks Morgan's patients reacting to Arafat's death? Or the pacification of Fallujah? It's been a very tough November...for some.

Posted by: Richard Heddleson at November 20, 2004 02:24 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Don't want to participate in the Great Collective Whine? How gauche of you, you boor!

Posted by: Tamquam L. Rugiens at November 20, 2004 03:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Come now. Face reality, Greg. I live in New York and believe me, it is not merely the upper west side that voted for Kerry. 74 percent of the city that was struck by the worst terrorist attack in the history of the country voted for Kerry. Is it not ironic that the president who supposedly is trying to "protect" us from terror is the one rejected by a resounding majority of the people who actually suffered the terror attack first hand? I've met truck drivers, delivery men, people of all stripes here who think Bush is a disaster, and more specifically, that he's doing a lot to undermine our security. It strikes a lot of us as strange that the rural areas seem to think they know how to fight this war that affects us more than anyone else better than we do.

There's a reason why people are despondent over this election --- it is not merely that people like to whine --- it is because we, like most of the country, are, in fact, scared about the future of the country, and we're concerned about security. We just happen to think Bush is doing a bad job handling it. I think it should give you more pause that so many intelligent people think this way, Greg, than it seems to.

You keep writing articles suggesting relatively sensible policies that you hope the Administration will take up, and at each turn they take another road. Has it ever occurred to you that you're projecting onto them a savvy that they simply do not possess?

Posted by: Mitsu at November 20, 2004 05:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

mitsu, i believe this administration will a) see iraq through, b) seek robust diplomatic outcomes in noko and iran, and c) resucitate the Middle East peace process--all in a manner more effective, disciplined and serious than a Kerry team, imho, would have done. Yes, I'd like to see (much derided) better public diplomacy in the Arab world, and more intelligent, out of the box thinking on how better to wage a war against radical Islam. But I simply wasn't persuaded that Kerry took the threat seriously enough, as I've blogged extensively, and I don't think he would have assembled a team better suited or likely to be more adept to face the manifold challenges we do. so, i guess, i'm confused about all these "road(s)" you think the Bushies have taken that I wouldn't.

Posted by: greg at November 20, 2004 05:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hadassah Brooks Morgan's (what a name!) comments to Tina Brown smells of getting a nice, juicy soundbite out--heavy on the B.S.--to drum up the biz. What a joke!

Posted by: jj at November 20, 2004 05:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, what I mean is, you often speak of what you wish the Bush team would do (with respect to the Cabinet, for example, most recently), and then he doesn't do it. Most recently, for example, you seem to be hoping that Condi Rice will take up a more moderate position to counterbalance the neocons. I, too, wish this, and think it is at least possible, but I would not be surprised if she doesn't turn out to be much of a counterweight, as she hasn't been over the last four years. She's been, more or less, a somewhat neutral arbiter, hardly taking up strong positions proactively.

To me, this Bush team has its threat assessments backwards. I believe, in particular, the neocons have made a grave error in overestimating the threat from Iraq and underestimating it from Iran, North Korea, and Al Qaeda (in actuality, I think the threat from Iran and North Korea could have been managed with some serious threats + diplomacy, but now that we've invaded Iraq we have dramatically narrowed our options.) This is precisely why many of us who live in New York are extremely concerned about this President --- many of us feel he's been using a real terror threat as an excuse to carry out a variety of ancillary agendas which have only a tangential impact on terror.

I know we disagree on that point. However, we agree on many other points, but I simply think you're attributing more acumen to this team than is warranted. If they actually did follow some of the recommendations you make in your blog, I would be far less concerned. If Powell had stayed and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz left, or if Rice decides to take up a more active position championing alternative viewpoints, etc... I just don't see these things happening.

Posted by: Mitsu at November 20, 2004 06:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

C'mon Greg. Get a sense of humour. It's funny. A mixture of socialist search for validation, columnists' need for something to write about and lack of awareness that the liberal/socialist left could ever possibly be wrong.

Posted by: PJ at November 20, 2004 06:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mitsu --

It's fascinating to see the deep divide in how Kerry/Bush are perceived in cities and suburban/rural areas, particularly in their security policies.

John Stewart of the Daily Show also argued that since NYC voted overwhelmingly for Kerry, and they were the ones that were hit on 9/11; they had the moral superiority and the rest of the country voted shamefully since they were not at risk.

The derisively named "bridge and tunnel crowd" who can't afford to live in Manhattan and likely NYC (and their counterparts elsewhere) seem to have a different view of Bush and his security policies; they seem for whatever reason far more willing to use force to remove regimes post-9/11 than urbanites. This seems nationwide, Kerry took SALT LAKE CITY and Dallas, while Bush absent NYC would have taken New York State.

One possible explanation ... people LIVING in cities are more responsive to "returning" to a pre-9/11 world with it's emphasis on UN, French, etc. vetoes on US Military action, finding out "why people hate us" and making them no longer hate us by changing our behavior (i.e throwing Israel to the wolves and "apologizing"), paying them money, etc.

Whereas people who commute to urban centers to work and return home to suburbia, believe the problem is that our enemies did not sufficiently fear us, and therefore prefer more untrammeled military action to put the fear of the United States into them.

If this is true (I have no idea if it is); perhaps this is because the very rich and very poor who tend to live in cities (Tina Brown socialites and poverty stricken minorities) found Kerry's mutated Powell Doctrine fit their world view; while those who merely commute into cities (mostly middle class or working class folks with families) have a different worldview and attitudes toward force.

Addendum ... this might be because middle class and working class folks with hard-won homes, mortgages and families view any aggression against them (and by extension their families) as morally unjustified and worthy of the HARSHEST response; while mostly childless wealthy urbanites think that they did something wrong (guilt for their fabulous wealth) and the problem is solved by "writing a check"; poor urban minorities view the problem through the undeniable lack of social justice which is their daily life experience.

I have no idea if this is anything approaching an explanation for the different voting patterns and viewpoints in the country, but offer it up for discussion. Given that the US has proportionally a much higher rate of home ownership and families, this might also explain the disparate attitudes towards use of force between Europe and America.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at November 20, 2004 10:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One possibility you didn't mention Jim is that those in cities are reasonably the most fearful of further attacks -- it seems to me (a city-dweller) it's a lot easier to take unflinching positions when you live out in the 'burbs or a more rurual area and your chances of being directly affected by a future attack are near zero. Many actions come with some degree of blowback, and that's likely to be on urban centers (primarily NYC and DC most likely). So this may affect people's views on how to handle things. I don't think it's strange that people would have different views on this. If you live upriver from a potential dam-building project you've probably got pretty different views from those 100 miles away who will gain cheaper electricity from the project.

And Greg - sounds like you haven't been to Brooklyn in a while! Luxury condos and coops going up everywhere, rents and prices way high. It is getting harder and harder to live in the NYC area without being very wealthy. One almost wishes the crime rate would inch back up a little...

Posted by: TG at November 20, 2004 11:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I find this whole "REAL New Yorkers don't really hate Bush, its just the media elite that happens to live there who only hate him because of their vacuousness and socialism" kind of offensinve. I know its hard to deal with the idea that the people who actually suffered the brunt of the attack are so opposed to Bush, but it's just a fact. No splitting hairs, no pretending that commuters are the REAL New Yorkers, none of it. Why do conservatives have to treat every victim of 9/11 who dislikes Bush (i.e., people who live below 14th street and a number of 9/11 widows) as crazy or deluded? If you can't deal with that contradiction then maybe you should listen to it. But don't smear them or pretend they don't exist. No one is saying that victimhood means you get control over the response, but it aint nothing.

The fact is, New Yorkers, even god forbid, ones that live in Manhattan (who, surprise, are sometimes shallow and neurotic) have good reasons for disliking Bush, i.e., the fact that he has a pretty blatant disdain for for cities and people who live in them. We in New York have watched the last couple years as this administration has tried to convince every podunk town in the nation that al Qaeda is coming for them, then showered them with money and hazmat suits to prove it, when New Yorkers and everyone with a brain in their heads knows pretty dang well that we will always be ground zero. Not to mention that everything about Bush and his administration is hostile to our way of life, our gay friends, the government programs we believe in, all while our tax dollars go to subsidize his supporters out in the great mooching Red hinterland.

So go ahead and decide that you don't really care what New York City thinks of how we should deal with terrorism, that's majority rule after all. But don't tell us we don't know about terrorism, or insinuate that the attacks have made us too fragile to think clearly or, especially, that we have nothing to protect here, because we're all vacuous socialites and poor ghetto dwellers. All those teeming masses of subway riders who are so tough and driven? They may not be as much of a twit as Tina Brown, (god help us) but I can assure you a good majority of them are pretty upset about four more years of the buffoonish red stater.

Posted by: Alex at November 21, 2004 03:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Jim, thanks for your response. It's a bit more complex than that. Of course, I can't speak for everyone who lives in New York, but, for my part, I have nothing against a very forceful response to aggression. However, as TG also notes, I and many New Yorkers also have a legitimate concern about blowback, and thus, understandably, we are more apt to consider both the consequences and the benefits of a particular military response.

So, to us, the Afghan war was a high priority and well worth it; it's also worth noting that Wolfowitz actually wanted to attack Iraq first, even before Afghanistan. The conclusion I come to is that the war against terror isn't the real reason for many of our actions, but is, in fact, ancillary, an excuse for a neocon agenda that long predated 9/11.

Most of us in New York would be more than happy to carry the risks of another terror attack if we felt the military action in question was worth it. But, in the case of Iraq, the majority of us don't think it really has much to do with terrorism, and has a lot more to do with some other agenda. I personally don't think it's as simple as "blood for oil" --- I think it has to do with a long-stated neocon agenda to establish the United States as the sole undisputed superpower --- a strange program, in my view, since I think we already were that.

It is true that many of us prefer a more international approach to security. There are two major reasons for this; it has nothing to do with guilt. It is simply that when the international community acts in concert, the action has more legitimacy, and thus tends to increase the ranks of our enemies less. Further, it tends to spread the risk, so that the militants have more targets --- if they have to attack us, Britain, France, Russia, AND China, they're going to have a diluted impact. I am not opposed to unilateral action when necessary, but we have to remember that unilateral action does focus the blowback on us.

Posted by: Mitsu at November 21, 2004 03:16 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Or, to put it more succinctly ... I think Bush's policy is dangerous because it is both too aggressive and too weak --- too weak against Al Qaeda, North Korea, Iran ... but too aggressive against Iraq. What I, and I think most New Yorkers, favor is a combination of more forceful responses against enemies that are a more imminent threat to us, and less in the way of arbitrary attacks against other enemies in the service of a grand neocon vision which is, to my mind, of far less central importance in the war against Islamic extremists.

Posted by: Mitsu at November 21, 2004 03:32 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hmmmm, how is invading Afghanistan being too weak against Al Qaeda, Mitsu? The stuff about Iraq I get (don't agree with, but I get where you are coming from). But Al Qaeda? I don't get that, at all.

And Iran and North Korea were going to pursue the nuclear option no matter what we in the West did, as long as they perceive it to be in their national self interest. They are pursuing those options now, they were pursuing those options during the Clinton Administration. And I'm sure having US troops so close to Iran is a tad unsettling for the Iranian government, in both good and bad ways. It might feel better to have nice, quiet international agreements that they are secretly breaking, but the reality is the same, either way.

Also, I thought the neocon vision was to spread democracy, sort of like a reverse domino effect. I'm not agreeing with that theory, I'm just saying that the spread of democracy is central to the neocon worldview and I think it is interesting that you don't mention it.

Posted by: MD at November 21, 2004 08:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Oh, and also:

If 9-11 had happened in Dallas instead of New York, would that have changed the way most Dallas inhabitants would have voted? Maybe people react to traumas the only way they know how: through the filter of their world view. So that to say New Yorkers are the most at risk, and so favored John Kerry's approach, may not be the reality of the situation. No matter what happened, maybe most people will keep on thinking in the way that is most comfortable for them, namely, in the way they already think about things.

Aargh, tortured syntax and logic and all, but I hope you get what I am trying to say :)

Posted by: MD at November 21, 2004 08:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

>how is invading Afghanistan being too weak against Al Qaeda

The one thing Bush has done right since 9/11 is invade Afghanistan (in spite of the opposition of Wolfowitz and the neocons, I might add). But that was mostly because of Powell. The Iraq war, however, in my view has diverted resources, military power, etc., from Al Qaeda, and thus while he began well, he has not continued well. I argued at length at the time of the Afghan war that I thought that it was precisely the right move. Little did I know that we only went in there because Powell had argued vociferously for it -- one of his few victories and one of the few examples of a robust antiterror policy.

Regarding spreading democracy --- that is part of the general neocon agenda, but I don't believe it was the central motive for invading Iraq. Consider these quotes from Wolfowitz' 1992 "Defense Planning Guideline":

"The number one objective of U.S. post-Cold War political and military strategy should be preventing the emergence of a rival superpower."

Or consider this report from a group (Project for the New American Century) that includes Cheney and Rumsfeld: "Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein."

I believe this was the central motive. The democracy domino effect, so-called, I believe was a second thought after the above --- one which I believe they also believed in, but was not the primary motive.

In any event I believe both motives are dubious at best. While it is remotely possible that somehow this Iraq war will lead to a stable beacon for democracy in the world in the form of a renovated Iraq, I somehow think a more likely outcome will be a place of tenuous stability which will serve as a rallying cry against us for militants against us around the world. Further, I believe that we could have achieved a perfectly adequate "beacon for democracy" in the Islamic world by focusing on Afghanistan.

>Iran and North Korea were going to pursue the nuclear option no matter what we did

First of all, just think about this for a moment. Suppose one were to have said, before the Iraq war, "hey, Saddam is going to pursue the nuclear option no matter what we do, so we don't have to invade?" I just don't buy this. We could have applied both diplomatic and military pressure on North Korea and Iran. The threat would have been both more credible (Iran knows we can bomb them now, but it also knows we can hardly afford to invade them) and would have been combined with a more credible carrot. North Korea, as I've argued before, was trying to break the agreement but I believe the agreements and monitors served to slow down their nuclear program (otherwise why would they have been so eager to kick out the cameras and inspectors?)

In any event, regardless, ANY strategy against North Korea and Iran would have been better than doing next to nothing, which is what we did do --- and both North Korea and Iran have much more advanced nuclear programs than Iraq had. Again: to my mind, the wrong prioritization of threats.

Posted by: Mitsu at November 21, 2004 10:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mitsu, you make good points. You're right: it is silly to say Iran and North Korea were just going to pursue nuclear options anyway. I guess what I should have said is that if you really believed that Saddam posed more of a threat (because of the now we know non-existent WMDs, history of invading countries and strategic location) then that is where you would focus. Which you don't, as you stated.

Have we really dug such hole for ourselves in North Korea and Iran? We can still bomb sites as you said, and we have shown we have the will to do what we said we would do. Isn't that worth something?

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MD, I can only hope that we haven't painted ourselves into a corner with North Korea and Iran. My current worry: NK is clearly cooperating with Iran right now --- and they both have a motive to develop nuclear weapons, given the fact that they realize we might, at some point, invade. They have a motive to keep things in Iraq unstable, so our forces remain bogged down there, etc. Had we focused on pressuring them first, rather than invading Iraq, we would have had a much freer hand to deal with what I believe were more pressing threats.

Nevertheless, it is possibly not too late. My main concern, however, is the fact that it is this team that has come up with these threat assessments; assessments we now know were pretty far off the mark. And, finally, as I said above, I don't really believe they really thought Iraq was that much of a threat --- I believe the real reason we went in was to establish a permanent American military presence in the Gulf, as the paper from the think tank that includes Rumsfeld and Cheney indicates. I personally think that strategy (establishing a permanent American military presence in the middle of the Gulf) stems from a 20th century attitude towards conventional warfare, when we're dealing with a very different situation today.

In any event, it is for these and many other reasons that I feel a lack of confidence in this particular foreign policy team. I can only hope that they will listen to people like Greg here and move in a more sensible direction ... but I am not holding my breath. So far they haven't been following Greg's hopes on Cabinet moves, at the least. it seems to be the same team, only more so, with the sensible people like Powell on their way out.

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