TCS Daily

The Moral Rhetoric of American Presidents

By Matt Glassman - January 23, 2007 12:00 AM

When President Bush delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday night, he will mostly likely continue his practice of speaking about the war on terror in starkly moral terms. He will probably use language similar to the comments he offered while signing the Military Commissions Act back in October. Speaking of global terrorism, he said, "[t]his nation will call evil by its name. We will answer brutal murder with patient justice. Those who kill the innocent will be held to account."

That the President would use the word "evil" to describe America's enemies is not particularly surprising. Anyone who watched Bush deliver his primetime address to a joint session of Congress on September 20, 2001 probably remembers the moral and religious overtones of the speech. "Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them," Bush said. "Fellow citizens, we'll meet violence with patient justice -- assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come."

Four months later, in his 2002 state of the union address, Bush spoke in even more starkly moral terms, unveiling his now-famous "axis of evil" characterization of North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. "They embrace tyranny and death as a cause and a creed. We stand for a different choice...[w]e choose freedom and the dignity of every life."

Although positively received in 2001, an increasing number of commentators have chastised Bush for continuing to orient American politics -- particularly American foreign policy -- through the lens of moral right and wrong. Originally, most of this criticism came from the left. But increasingly, both mainstream and conservative critics have begun to question to strategic value of Bush's moralizing. One of Bush's most appealing attributes half a decade ago -- his strength of conviction -- has become for many his least, a cocky stubbornness of moral righteousness. It sometimes appears that the Bush presidency has become consumed with moral issues, or at least with the moral dimension of issues -- stem cells, same-sex marriage, faith-based charities, and, of course, the axis of evil.

Colleen Shogan, in her book The Moral Rhetoric of American Presidents, offers a carefully researched and thoroughly revealing look at the strategic role moral rhetoric has played in presidential leadership over the past 200 years. Although Shogan began research for the book years before 9/11, it serves as an excellent field-guide for understanding the role of rhetoric in the rise and fall of the Bush presidency.

Using an analysis of hundreds of presidential speeches and case studies of nine presidents, Shogan portrays presidential moral rhetoric as a dual-edged sword, a potentially powerful weapon for energizing public support and eliminating political opposition, but also a blunt instrument that destroys the ability of the president to forge compromises or reverse course once wielded. In many cases, Shogan argues, the rhetorical choices presidents make are as important to their leadership prospects as the substantive choices they make.

Shogan identifies the political contexts in which the strategic use of moral rhetoric can expand political authority for the president. One key factor identified by Shogan is party cohesion. If the president's party is united ideologically, moral rhetoric often can enhance the president's leadership position by consolidating public support at little political cost. Conversely, presidents presiding over divided parties should observe moral restraint in order to maintain comity. Flexibility and prudence are key.

The problem for Bush, according to Shogan, is that the political contexts of moral rhetoric have largely passed him by during his second term. His use of stark moral rhetoric in the aftermath of 9/11 was, from a strategic perspective, quite helpful. But by 2005, it had become a hindrance. As events occurred around him, in Iraq and elsewhere, Bush's inflexible moral rhetoric became increasingly difficult to match with complex situations. As Shogan writes, "Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, Indonesia, and Pakistan do not fall neatly within Bush's moral dichotomy. Domestic resolve to fight terrorism might be maintained, but the utility of categorical moral language diminishes as international relationships evolve into intricate commitments."

The backlash has manifested itself in two ways: Bush is now viewed as stubborn and unrealistic about his own foreign policy, and he also has nowhere to go; a shift toward a more nuanced and flexible policy for the war on terror might be prudent, but would stand as a leadership disaster. By their very nature, moral claims must remain true. Circumstances alter political strategies, but they cannot alter moral truth, once spoken. "Consistency and 'staying the course' must be maintained for Bush's seamless moralism to make sense," argues Shogan. "If the moral legitimacy of Bush's claims is challenged in any significant way, it is unclear where Bush will turn."

The strange awkwardness of the Rumsfeld resignation in November highlights this point. Some leaders are praised for their ability to adapt; Bush, by rhetorical tying his leadership to resoluteness, has lost that possibility. Five years of moral clarity in decision-making have made shifts in administration policy appear as weakness instead of flexibility. Far from a strong showing of presidential leadership, the resignation felt more like the President was giving in. The move was popularly portrayed largely as Bush being "rescued," either by foreign policy realists or, even worse, his father. In any case, it did little to reinforce Bush's leadership position or public perception.

At first, one might read Shogan's book for a very secular conception of presidential moralizing. The focus on the strategic value of moral rhetoric seems to imply something of an amoral approach to the topic. But a careful reading of the work suggests otherwise; Shogan identifies a tension between the individual moral beliefs of presidents and the political use of those beliefs. Presidents who bring strong moral predispositions to the office - such as Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, and Bush - have more difficulty correctly assessing the strategic ramifications of moral rhetoric than those who understand moral rhetoric largely for its strategic value. In this reading, Lincoln is seen as the master of his moral ideas; Bush as a servant to his.

The long-term power of Shogan's research lies in its illustrative answer to an age-old question: does political rhetoric actually matter? That is, could James Buchanan actually have altered the secession crisis in the winter of 1860-61 if he didn't, as Shogan illustrates, utterly bungle his moral rhetoric during the time period? If Lyndon Johnson had refrained from moral rhetoric, would the voting rights act not have passed in 1965?

To a certain degree these questions are imponderables. And indeed, Shogan demurs on the ultimate answers in the substantive cases cited above. But those questions miss entirely the larger vista the President should be surveying: how will the short-term boost of using moral rhetoric affect long-term leadership prospects?

To this, Shogan provides a deeply satisfying answer. The rhetorical choices presidents make both shape future political contexts and constrain the range of legitimate options they have within those contexts. By placing moral rhetoric within the context of long-term presidential leadership, Shogan ties its value to what Richard Neustadt saw as the essence of Presidential power: the capacity for sustained leadership.



Meddling in the affairs of others
It's amazing anyone can be found now to put in a good word for meddling from a standpoint of moral superiority, when we see the morass this kind of thinking has put our country in and how much time and trouble it will take us to get back out again.

It has to be apparent to all that the effect our meddling has had is to take a place where terrible things have happened-- Saddam's Iraq-- and caused it to become much worse. Today, far more people are dying violent deaths than did, on average, under Saddam. And between today and the day a new Saddam is installed on top of the seething heap that is Iraq, several hundred thousand more must probably die. Because a tyrant is probably the stable point for that kind of state. And our best intentions are powerless to change that.

Terrible harm has been done by these intentions. Instead, the lesson to be borne by our folly is never-- never again-- must we permit any leader of any country, most of all our own, to invade another for any reason.

We need to dismantle our Great Pyramid of arms, which is bankrupting the country. And we need to withdraw from the shores of the hundred-odd countries where we now have a military presence. It is our Great Folly.

American, go home. It's time now.

they started it.

I suppose our survival was at stake
Do I need to remind you that "they" were nineteen Saudis, now deceased?

The fellow that sent them has been very forthcoming as to his reasons for doing so. He wanted the American miltary presence out of the lands of Islam. So we have played right into his hands by entrenching ourselves there. The risk today is greater, not less than it was on 9/12, 2001.

The Powerless Ones
Two following statements by Shogan or Glassman express troubling implications, and worse, exhibit an odd notion of moral truth.

“By their very nature, moral claims must remain true. Circumstances alter political strategies, but they cannot alter moral truth, once spoken.”

“The rhetorical choices presidents make both shape future political contexts and constrain the range of legitimate options they have within those contexts.”

The first statement implies that a president who speaks a moral truth must make it true despite what circumstances do, and even worse, that presidents wield such power. Yet moral truths do not describe the world “as is” but as it ought to be. This is why politicians invoke moral truths – to sell voters on laws and wars guaranteed to refashion the world as it ought to be. How should politics work otherwise? Really, what ought politicians do with all their power: Pass out boons and burdens according to an amoral calculus of self-interested political capitalism? Bingo.

The second statement implies that only those moral truths bent to and mangled in political rhetoric shape political contexts and constrain legitimate options. Nonsense. For this to be true, voters have to be empty-headed, brain-washable, amoral barbarians incapable of discerning and affecting any moral truths of their own. Worse, it implies that hypocrisy is the most unforgivable if not the only moral sin a politician can commit. Again, nonsense. What worse, Slick Willy: Doing the intern or looking America in the eye and lying about it?

Where I used to work hang two paintings side-by-side done by a man fighting schizophrenia. The first he did while still firmly in schizophrenia’s grip, and notably, every person he depicted held his arms rigidly by his side as if he were powerless to use them. The second he did after improving remarkably, and notably, the people he depicted could now raise their arms and do things with them.

The people in which painting does Shogan & Glassman’s view of humanity describe? The powerless ones – the ones in the senseless grip of moral truths no one believes or can affect due to circumstances no one can control. Nonsense.

according to them, it is
They have stated over and over again, that they will continue to attack us until we either all die, or all convert.
They have shown that they have the will, and increasingly, the ability to carry out these threats.

As to bin Laden, you really need to read everything he says, not just the tiny pieces that fit into your hate america first agenda.

He and his have stated that their ultimate goal is a worldwide caliphate.

Incentivizing the war without end
Surely you realize how silly it is to cling to these scraps, these crumbs of pretexts for Global Fear. These tiny radical outfits are merely gangsters. They have the capability of killing virtually zero Americans.

In fear of these almost nonexistent bogey men we spend gazillions of our wealth, denying ourselves the benefits that money, better spent, could buy for all Americans. Or rather we put it on the tab for our children to pay.

But most importantly, you're falling for the hype put out by cynical ideologues from inside the defense contracting industry. While the rest of the world loses from this colossal waste of resources, the GWOT, a tiny number of people win hugely.

Outfits like Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, General Electric, Raytheon and General Dynamics profit from our grotesque fears of miniscule dangers. And when they can't make enough money from wars of choice in places like Iraq, they connive for our technology to be sold abroad, so China can pretend to be in a race with us for some alleged primacy over the planet.

Americans are a very gullible people, easily conned out of our wealth. You should at least read these articles on our giving missile technology to China so they can be competitive with us in the arms race:

Be sure you chortle over the part where Bill Clinton started the program, and ignore the part where George Bush has continued it. China now has JDAM technology because we gave it to them. We need them competing with us-- to spur further development.

Couldn't agree more
You're going to have to seriously re-examine the basis for your argument-- because I agree with it. Lofty and poorly founded statements of moral superiority do in fact convey cynically formulated messages to the boobs out there-- and they can be maneuvered into voting accordingly.

"...only those moral truths bent to and mangled in political rhetoric shape political contexts and constrain legitimate options. Nonsense. For this to be true, voters have to be empty-headed, brain-washable, amoral barbarians incapable of discerning and affecting any moral truths of their own."

Not all the voters. Only one more than half the voters in a small handful of large states, under our wondrously contrived electoral system. You just have to use the magic words that activate their patriot buttons.

"What worse, Slick Willy: Doing the intern or looking America in the eye and lying about it?"

Neither, in my mind, is worse than starting a war from cynical motives, knowing there was no basis in reality for that war. The worst crime of all has to be entering into a war from the motive of profit, disguising it in a thin beard of moral certitude.

It's not the powerless who disseminate those moral truths that so move us to feats of folly. It's the manipulators who've attained the top of the heap.

Welcome to fantasy island!
A paradise that exists only the mind of a guilt-ridden isolationist. Let the genocides, invasions, and nuclear proliferation begin! We won't stop you.

And since the world is so full of love we can drop our defenses and hide behind our impenetrable borders.

We can now safely move Roy's name into the delusional category. What a load of crap.

Naivete is charming only in the very young
When it comes to nuclear proliferation, certainly it can't have escaped your notice that it is the United States, singlehandedly, who has been most arduous in scuttling the NNPT. It was George Bush who met with Putin to discuss the matter, and neded up forging an agreement for each party to retain a certain number of ICBMs intact and the remainder in pieces, separately stored. Going in, we were hoping he might have clinched the deal for strengthening the NNPT and calling for a bilateral dismantling of all such missiles.

Can you think of any other reason for keeping the arms race program alive, other than the obvious salubrious effect it has on federal expenditures? Come on, man, follow the money trail!

If you're at a loss as to where to begin looking, I alert you to the following tidbit:

ah yes, the old, we have nothing to fear from those who are trying to kill us
I guess roy is willing to put up with Americans being blown up forever, so long as the numbers never get to large, and as long as he's never targeted.

As to never ending war, it takes two to make peace. When the other side declares that they will never quite, you have two choices, fight or quit.

We know that roy loves to quit.

"It's amazing anyone can be found now to put in a good word for meddling from a standpoint of moral superiority, when we see the morass this kind of thinking has put our country in and how much time and trouble it will take us to get back out again."

It's too bad we meddled in Europe during WWII. Those eastern European nations just loved the USSR.

And had we kept out of WWII, your Palestinian problem would have been solved.

Of course, had the US not meddled in Europe during WWII, how likely would it be we would still be speaking English?

And I would submit most countries of the free world are really happy they don't have to worry too much about being invaded because the USA is covering their tails.

Our greatest enemy
Of course we have something to fear from these people. They are dangerous thugs. If left unchecked, they might kill dozens of us. They could, for instance, leave pipe bombs in trash cans. Even though they've done nothing on our soil in the past five years.

Our greatest fear is of those who are protecting us. They're making enemies overseas faster than they can control them. And they're propelling us toward bankruptcy.

I suppose you feel safer though, now that we're making a muddle of the war we started. We're being buried in people who have good reason to hate us over there. Can you think of any good reason why we should continue annoying them?

To me, it serves no good purpose to poke sticks in a bad dog's muzzle. Some day he may be able to get behind you.

But senility is just sad
Actually, that was scuttled because:

a) The IAEA has done a spectacular job of enforcing the edicts of the treaty right? It was a toothless treaty that no one followed. Iran, North Korea, Libya, Pakistan, India, and Iraq did not sprout nuclear technology as soon as Bush was elected.

b) It was the concept of building an missile defense system, a worthy cause considering the proliferation of nuclear technology, that drove the final nail in that treaty's coffin.

It has nothing to do with your conspiracies of defense contractors. You can tell an old hippie by the nature of the conspiracy theory.


Ummm... I have said for a long time that Clinton sold us out to the Chinese. I have also stated my displeasure that we have given them favored-nation status at the bargaining table.

It is too late and we can't take back the technology or our commerce with China. The former would lead to war and China is quite ready for us. The latter would do untold damage to our economy and theirs.

Your source tells me nothing I didn't already know. Bush is not at fault for causing this but he sure hasn't done a damn thing to stem the tide.

Is this your "money trail"? Are you saying that Bush dismantled the treaty in order to use federal money to enrich the Chinese government?

protect your family and neighbors by putting that bad dog down.

Your exceptionally silly and ignorant statement that "If left unchecked, they might kill dozens of us. They could, for instance, leave pipe bombs in trash cans." is really far beneath you RB. We've been through this so many times now that you should feel quite foolish repeating this yet again. Repeating something stupid and false over and over does not make it true nor thoughtful.

Are these idiotic statements now par for you? You get some kind of kick out blathering outright fabrications? Do better next time.

And furthermore...
Your declaration that "Our greatest fear is of those who are protecting us." is truly contemptible. You who have done nothing to protect or serve your country deserve its protection only through Constitutional decree and not by merit. This is almost the last straw. Why don't you and the other whacko, Beatles pass around the talking stick and discuss the consequences of a nation whose armies refuse to defend.

Morals, motives and truths
What I've learned recently from reading C.S. Lewis and Leo Strauss is that in the absence of some external standard of reference, reason's bane is reason. Reason’s objective external standard of reference is the material universe, which is why one definition of truth is perception plus sound reason. Logic is another, enabling the construction of abstract proofs for perception plus sound reason even in cases where no actual perception is possible.

But what objective external references do moral truths enjoy? One is cost, another capacity, a third utility, but only insofar as utility incorporates cost and capacity into its measurement. One more, consensus, is utterly unreliable because it’s subject to political convenience, so we must discard it.

Now, we've only gathered a handful of objective components into our external reference for moral truths, all of which are sadly offset by subjective components, such as motive, mistake, incapacity, accident and risk, not to mention outright fraud. Consequently, no one can guarantee which moral truths, if universally enacted into law, will provide man the world he wants instead of the world he's got. Even worse, few understand that without the support of moral truths, law provides its enforcers mere mechanical and emotional power, that is, the power of violence and terror.

This hopeless impasse requires resort to belief in and fidelity to some set of moral truths because reason armed with subjective references can easily debunk any set of moral truths no matter how obvious their objective support may be. However, postmodern man has set reason to debunking all moral truths except those convenient to politicizing the moral claims convenient to one constituency or another. Hence Shogan and Glassman’s politically skewed and frankly disturbing take on moral truths. It’s like listening to Screwtape hold forth on moral philosophy.


as usual, roy substitutes paranoia for fact
There isn't a shred of evidence to support your claim that we are creating enemies overseas.
Those who hate us now, have hated us for generations, and will still hate us generations from now, regardless of what we do today.

We should continue to kill them until they give up the notion that they want to kill us. Or until there are no more of them left.

Either solution works for me.

"Even though they've done nothing on our soil in the past five years."
It's not for lack of trying.

I guess the government could sit on its hands for a few weeks and see if anything happens.

"The plot was discovered six months ago, roughly the same time that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed by coalition forces. Sources tell ABC News that the suspects involved in the effort to launch the U.S. attack were closely associated with Zarqawi.

The plan also came only months after Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2, had requested that Zarqawi attempt an attack inside the United States.

"This appears to be the first hard evidence al Qaeda in Iraq was trying to attack us here at home," said ABC News consultant Richard Clarke, former chief counterterrorism adviser on the U.S. National Security Council. "

then what's your excuse
You probably believe that all we have to do is click our heels together three times in order to get N. Korea and Iran to start living up to their treaty obligations.

it's only meddling when roy supports the agenda of those being meddled.

it's only meddling when roy supports the agenda of those being meddled.

Regarding the review and the book, it will be interesting to see how Bush wields religious and moral rhetoric in his address to the nation tonight. Rhetoric matters. Agreed?

A slight correction
"The IAEA has done a spectacular job of enforcing the edicts of the treaty right?"

No, the IAEA has no enforcement powers whatsoever. Whenever a violation of safeguard protocols is detected, the IAEA's only course of action is to report any such breach to the Security Council of the UN through the Secretary General. Any enforcement failure is that of the Security Council, not of the IAEA.

"...considering the proliferation of nuclear technology, that drove the final nail in that treaty's coffin."

Indeed. The question was, which comes first, horizontal or vertical proliferation. At every renewal talk on NPT over the years, the five weapon states have all been accused by the remainder of the world of not living up to their commitments under NPT, namely to eliminate their own weapon stocks. For the record, India, Pakistan and Israel have never violated NPT. They never signed it, and one could argue that their position is more honest than that of the US, Britain, France, Russia, China which signed a treaty for which they had no intention of observing.

As for the rest, far be it from me to disagree with your points in contention with RB.

Extending the analogy a bit further
If there are a lot of potentially bad dogs in the neighborhood, it's wiser and safer to leave them all alone. If one gets in your own yard, of course, shoot him. But don't go out looking for them. Trouble is sure to find you.

"Your exceptionally silly and ignorant statement that "If left unchecked, they might kill dozens of us. They could, for instance, leave pipe bombs in trash cans." is really far beneath you RB. We've been through this so many times now that you should feel quite foolish repeating this yet again. Repeating something stupid and false over and over does not make it true nor thoughtful."

There is no evidence to support the notion that they would stop trying to kill us if we were to stop trying to kill them-- for the simple reason that they have never tried it. But it is demonstrable that we started things off. We were instrumental in overthrowing the Shah. We meddled in Lebanon, and were seen as being on Israel's side. And we have in fact BEEN on Israel's side since 1967. So right there we've been responsible for more trouble to them than all of them put together have ever been to us.

We need to back off. We are the aggressor. They are within their rights to respond.

BTW the fallacy you employ, and the one I've followed here for the purpose of argument, is to define "them" as a monolithic THEM. All citizens of Islamic states have potentially been turned into our de facto enemies-- even though the number of terrorists intending harm to the US is a vanishingly small one.

If our purpose is to turn "them-1" (all the world's 1.3 billion Muslims) into "them-2" (actively anti-American terrorists) we're succeeding remarkably well.

We're not playing defense here
I'm all in favor of defense. But that's not what we're doing. We're engaging in aggression. And that I will not participate in. It was bad when Germany and Japan did it, and it's bad when the US does it.

Don't worry. If and when our country does need defending I'll be right there. But right now it's the rest of the world that needs defending from us. We are a runaway militarized state.

"There isn't a shred of evidence to support your claim that we are creating enemies overseas."

Sure there is.

When you say "We should continue to kill them until they give up the notion that they want to kill us. Or until there are no more of them left" does this mean everyone on earth except good old red blooded Americans?

Happy trails, bub. I don't think that's going to happen. We haven't even been able to occupy two fairly small countries, and our military is already tapped out.

But I favor a strong defense
I support defending our own soil. As many enemies as we've made, it would be kind of dumb not to.

I do NOT support invading other nations in order to provide full employment for our ridiculously large offensive capabilities. Standing armies are the death of peace, as our founding fathers pointed out. They are a hammer in search of nails to pound.

Pre-emptive total war
You actually can't tell the difference between starting a war and responding after someone else starts one. That explains a lot about the positions you take. All it takes is for you to dislike someone. Then it's okay to start a war against them.

Iraq did not start a war against us.

Iran hasn't started a war against us.

North Korea hasn't started a war against us.

We are waging a war against the first of them-- unsuccessfully, as it turns out-- and telling the rest to just wait until we get to them.

Of coures you do.

Correction: Of course you do.

Germany did not start a war against us.
North Korea did attack the USA.

Iran attacked the US by invading our Embassy.

Iraq attacked Kuwait, and an international coalition of nations condemned the attack and froced Iraq to withdraw.
Iraq did not surrender. A cease fire was declared. Iraq violated that cease fire agreement countless times.

Target Iran
Iran is now on the agenda.

You can puff and snort all you want, but if we go after Iran, bend over and kiss it good bye.

Check out their armament, check out their treaty partners.

One step into that incendiary mine field will set the world ablaze.

Morality and behavior...

We can vet and dissect personal morality or sovereign legislation objectively versus subjectively to determine reasonable validity versus logical inconsistency...cost, capacity, utility, consensus, motive, mistake, incapacity, accident, risk, fraud...OK "no one can guarantee which moral truths, if universally enacted into law, will provide man the world he wants instead of the world he's got" Great. Let's get past this impossible conundrum part of the matter to tools that we can apply to the tasks. We should not need to all agree on a universal personal morality to implement political ethics and a system of universal sovereign morality.

Personal morality is a matter for the culture of each society. We are all dealing with the same human issues of living together. However, the spirit of appropriate behavior gets caught up in the letter of the law. God (or the Devil) is in such details.

For example, the issue of female sexuality. This is central to human social behavior, universally considered as a matter to be regulated and this same issue is managed by our myriad cultures in dramatically different ways.

There is a biological reality surrounding human female sexual urges. A measurable, objective set of facts. There is also a broad range of moral constructs regarding the expression of these urges. A documented subjective set of facts. In this instance of personal morality there are no "...moral truths, if universally enacted into law, [that] will provide man the world he wants..."

Well, my friend, there is nothing in this whole wide world more fundamental to personal morality and the human experience than female sexuality. (Except, perhaps, the ethics of beer.) And we are probably never going to achieve universal common ground, here. It follows that personal morality in general is not an appropriate starting point for the morality of the business entity or for the morality of the sovereign.

This is not to say that secular morality should be in conflict with religious ethics. They simply have different jobs to do.

In that the priests want to manage their nations we do have the stubbornness of the moral high ground that empowers their leadership. This is the case with the Christian politicians and with the Islamic Mullahs. They inform their constituencies and they validate their leadership roles as extensions of personal morality. The problem, here, is that political ethics as an extension of personal ethics are inappropriate, inadequate and will lead to irreconcilable, pointless conflicts with modern weapons. (If they hate us because our women wear short skirts and we discount them because they will not send their girls to school.) It is urgent that we should get past this moment of confusion.

Speaking of our founding fathers...
Why don't you educate yourself about the origins of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps? Our country has been fighting Islamic extremists and pirates since its formation. Some of our founding fathers were for bribing and appeasing the mussulman, however, Jefferson declared ".... not one cent", whereas Washington favored extermination, thus a Navy was built and Marines mustered to eliminate the threat. Our first pre-emptive, offensive war.

You might be right on your last statement. If the democrats have their way, we will absolutely be running away. Hah, Good one RB!

You place a lot more faith in our enemies than I ever will. Give me my Marines over your headhackers.

And I most certainly do worry about the defense of our nation in the like of your hands. What have you done to prepare yourself? What are you willing to do for your country? What's your excuse?

Isn't this discussion supposed to be about religious and moral rhetoric? What did you guys think of the speech tonight? How about Webb's follow-up? Things are getting interesting...

The aggressor is always wrong
Germany did not start a war "against us". Nonetheless, she started a war. It was right that we finished it. It was aggression.

Saddam did not start a war against us. He started a war against Kuwait. It was right that we finished it. It was aggression.

The second time around it was we who were the aggressor.

North Korea did not start a war against us. It's not for us to declare a war against them.

And Iran was only rectifying an old injury, when she took back her own government from our Shah. Don't get so high and mighty about Iran. They have good reason to hate us.

I am always careful to clearly identify our enemy as islamic extremists and jihadists. Our enemy is not the billion or so peaceful muslims. It is you who has employed the monolithic "them". You believe that "They are within their rights to respond." You can only be talking about islamic fundamentalists, Al Qaida terrorists, Sunni & Shia
death squads, and foreign jihadis who target innocent market shoppers, innocent university students and professors, and the Iraqi & U.S. soldiers. Those are our enemies. The vast majority of Iraqis are not our enemies.

Our "meddling" in Lebanon amounted to the evacuation of thousands of Palestinians from Beirut (including PLO/Hezbullah and their families) who were fleeing a nearly complete ass-kicking by the Israeli Army and Air Force. That's where I spent my summers in '82 and '83. Dodging bullets and hustling a lot of terrified people onto LCUs and Hueys. You were probably bad-mouthing us during that time weren't you RB? Just like now, you complete jerk. Then those ungrateful bastards bombed our embassy and barracks. But for the diversion of Grenada and the grace of my detailer, I did not return to Lebanon. I have not forgotten my murdered brothers.

I do not share your sympathy with our enemies.

You have to think like they do
The NNPT has been a spectacular failure because the world's cop has never policed it properly. Instead it ended up being a political device.

Instead of creating a rule everyone had to follow, we created a joke. We policed it, but the US was exempt from it. Our friends-- Israel, Pakistan and India-- didn't even have to belong to it. We never put pressure on them. But Iran, who signed it and who has adhered to it, is demonized. As an institution, it commanded less than no respect.

So we finally just ignored it.

What I am saying about space weapons technology is that US companies and Chinese companies conspire to share information, so they can have an arms race. Without a rough equivalence in capability they know that neither can get the big bucks from their respective governments.

Your thinking is foggy if you think "Bush dismantled the treaty in order to use federal money to enrich the Chinese government". On both sides, this is being done to enrich friends and put them in situations where they can return favors. Try to put yourself in their place, assume you're a crook, and then figure out why they do what they do. It's not that hard, when billions in free money are changing hands on the premise that we need to save the republic.

And I think the governments themselves-- the military establishments-- don't mind because they know the whole thing is a joke. China and the US do a LOT of business with one another. And we understand neither side is going to mess up a good thing by starting a hot war.

Look for provocative incidents from time to time, like the planes that bumped into each other over Hainan a few years back. These events give the show greater credibility.

Say what?
This is pretty outrageous. The first thing George Bush did when he got into office was to abrogate every treaty the US had ever signed with anyone. On what basis are we to tell anyone they must uphold their end of treaty obligations we don't honor?

Not in the book I read
Our response to years of outrageous provocation by the Barbary corsairs was anything but pre-emptive. It was a long time in coming. And I would approve of action that stopped predators in the sea lanes today.

But I would limit the action to the perps. I wouldn't bomb cities, for instance, to take care of a few pirates. It's called proportionality.

Distinctions and costs
You know, I'd like to see your distinction between personal and political morality, but I don't. The reason? Cost-shifting for power, influence and cash prizes. I'll try and express what I mean as simply and briefly as I can.

I see laws as the expressed difference between what people believe people ought to do and what people actually do. And, if someone breaks a law, she's created a cost - many times imposed on a victim - that the law will shift back to her. Otherwise, she will have unjustly enriched herself at the expense of another and society. Remember "an eye for an eye"? For this ancient mechanic I picture a T-account, matching penal debits with violation credits.

This is of course a dramatically oversimplified way of analyzing laws, but even so it shines light right on the central issues. Let's take it for a spin on the issue of personal morality - female sexuality - abortion, why don't we?

Women get pregnant, men don't. That's why women can't enjoy the same degree of "fire-and-forget" sexual freedom that men do. Hence, their sexual freedom is unequal, UNLESS ... women are free to choose to have an abortion. That's right, folks: An impregnated woman can simply shift the cost of her sexual inequality to her fetus by terminating it, thereby achieving near sexual equality with men. And if we got clever judges, they'll see the legal necessity of ginning up a legal fiction declaring that the destruction of a human fetus costs the fetus and society nothing. This is exactly what Roe and Casey did.

Now I know you've been paying attention lo these many years since Roe, forest, so I know you've observed the sky-high pile of political capital this case has generated for every drooling fanatic willing to abuse sound reason for political power, influence and cash prizes. I know you understand how much political distortion ON BOTH SIDES this single issue has burdened our country with, how it's swung elections in shocking directions, etc. And until now, I bet you've heard nothing but maniacal, specious but very heart-felt and sincere if not zealous argument from both sides pro and con.

My point? Oftentimes personal morality exerts a fantastically powerful influence on politics, everywhere. Furthermore, I see no distinction between personal morality and public morality so long as people are ready to use the state and the law to shift the costs of their personal conduct on to others. Indeed, I believe that much of the reasoning behind the welfare state fits this bill: People ought to be free to pursue whatever freak-show lifestyle suits them by shifting the extra costs they generate to society, or more particularly, to the good people whose lifestyles generate more tax revenues than social claims.

In conclusion, my suspicion is that you've got some work to do finding and substantiating that distinction between personal and public morality, forest.


"North Korea did not start a war against us. It's not for us to declare a war against them."
Who did they attack in the 50s?

as usual, roy takes flawed science and pretends it's reality
not that "poll" again.
Man, is there no limits to the bad science that you are willing to celebrate.

As to my second point, it's very clear whom I am talking about. If you are unable, or unwilling to read, that's not my problem.

and our current wars are not pre-emptive in that same sense
they were a long time (too long) in coming.

every treaty ever signed?
man roy, you are delusional this week.
Bush didn't "abrogate" a single treaty.
The only one he withdrew from was the ABM treaty. He used the mechanism built into to the treaty to do so. Regardless, the country with which we were bound by the treaty, no longer existed, so we were no longer bound either.

Your enemies
No, I am not talking about religious zealots or jihadists. I am talking about ordinary people who become insurgents when a foreign power comes in, destroys their country physically, wrecks the economy and the government and sends unemployment above fifty percent. These people, who have lost everything due to an occupation without the sanction of any authoritative body, are well within their rights to fight the occupier.

I myslef would readily do so, in the event that a foreign occupier did the same thing where I live. So I do not consider people to be evil merely because they commit, or support the commission of, violence against an illegitimate occuption.

You say you were in Lebanon in '82-83? And you were evacuating thousands of Palestinians from Beirut?

In light of the invasion then going on, where the IDF was terrorizing the country, don't you think it would be easy for anyone there to think of you as being just part of the invasion force? I've read the accounts, and go along with the somewhat confused version that we really thought we were there to rein in the Israelis, etc. But look at it from the POV of the militias. Foreigners had come in to support Franjieh and the Phalangists. They were all fair game.

You go into a neighborhood where everyone is angry and packing heat, you have no one but yourself to blame if you get shot at. What was the US doing there in the first place? In everyone's mind, it could only have been to support the Israeli invasion.

So let's chalk that mishap up to being one of ignorance. We just never realized anyone might resent our uninvited presence in a private fight. Particularly after the USS New Jersey (was it?) shelled the Shia neighborhoods of south Beirut from offshore. That kind of thing really does give a bad first impression.

Plumbing new depths
Omigod, I forgot all about that! They did come ashore in Los Angeles, didn't they?

Oh wait. No, they actually attacked the other side in the Korean civil war.

You're a mess, marjon. You actually believe they attacked the United States. What happened was that we elected to come to the aid of one side in a civil war.

Stupid exaggerations again
You are athe outrageous one. Please list "every treaty the US had ever signed with anyone." You continue to fabricate history. You should learn to control your urge to lie.

Well above the law
Bush decided unilaterally that we would no longer be bound by well over a dozen treaties, some large, some small. They run the gamut from compliance with the Geneva Accords on torture and the treatment of detainees, through the scuttling of the NNPT, ABM and SALT treaties, to international agreements on issues such as bank secrecy and the shipment of hazardous wastes.

He's not even answerable to domestic law, having decided his regime is above the Bill of Rights. According to his own doctrine, mere laws can't touch him. What he's done is to decide we're in a state of martial law, without actually declaring it.

Also the NNPT was not a bilateral treaty with the USSR. It was an international agreement that was signed by 188 sovereign nations. Conspiculously missing from the list are Israel, Pakistan and Israel-- and North Korea.

We have never announced a pullout from the treaty, so we are still subject to it. However we are in noncompliance with Article Four, the provision prohibiting development of new classes of nuclear weapons.

Amid an atmosphere of rancor, fomented mostly by the United States, talks finally broke down a couple of years back. So this treaty-- a tremendously important safeguard for the future of mankind-- is for the moment a dead letter. Thanks to one man.

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