Maureen Dowd

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Maureen Dowd is incredibly tiresome. Everything with her is part of some larger narrative, all part of some big story that only she can tell us, because we don't have her insight. Nothing simply happens, it all happens because of some deep psychological factors that explain absolutely everything, and nothing outside of that explanation is possible.

Dowd wrote a book trying to explain every action President Bush has ever taken in reference to his relationship with his father. Pardon me while I pause to yawn broadly.

She was at it again on "Meet the Press" this week. According to her, the reason Putin talked about the electoral college was because "(Bush's) daddy's friends on the Supreme Court" selected him as President and Putin wanted to say if this is good enough for the U.S., why not good enough for Russia? OK, even if Putin was making this basic point about how Bush lost the "popular vote" but won the electoral college, it had nothing to do with Bush's father. Augh. Please, just shut up.

When the Queen of Snark was asked if the actions in Iraq are helping to create democracy throughout the Middle East, she said, "It's so '20th century' to go to war because you have to; now we go to war because we want to." When he asked again, was Iraq the appropriate course?, she still gave a snarky nonanswer: "Well, I'm old-fashioned: I think you actually have to tell the American people the truth before you go to war." Please, please, shut up.

Then, she continued: "But the problem with that is that kind of moral absolutism gets into a lot of 'ends justifies the means' traps, and that's what we saw in Europe and with Putin, because Putin can also say 'our ends justify our means.'"

I am not sure if she meant that we gave Russia the idea that it could use this argument, or if the U.S. is incapable of responding negatively to it because that would be hypocritical. Either way, it doesn't work.

First, let's dispense with this notion of ends and means, at least in the sense she implies -- that we went to war with bad means (lying, invading) to accomplish good ends (democracy) -- the obvious problem being that many people disagree that the means were as characterized by her.

Iraq is about ends and means in the same way Just War Theory -- which pretty much the entire world adheres to -- is. Critics would say that the U.S. did not have common prerequistites for conducting a just war: cause, authority, proper intentions, etc. Honest and intelligent people can -- and should, in a properly free nation -- disagree on these points in a given situation, as they are open to broad interpretation. In the end, the decision is a sovereign one, meaning that no external authority gets to tell the U.S. that it did not properly follow these principles. i.e., it's not the end justifying the means, it is sovereign proclamation that the means are acceptable given the desired end.

Some people may think those are two ways of saying the same thing, but it isn't so. The connotation of "end justifies the means" is that the means are bad ones, but since it is all turned out OK, that's what counts. But Just War Theory says no, the means must be proportional to the desired end. You can't wipe out all the people in China to protect Tokyo.

So unless she wishes to go far deeper and attack the Just War Theory itself, let's admit this is about making unpopular sovereign decisions, the means or ends of which others may find uncompelling.

Now, if in all this she meant that our "misdeeds" -- however defined -- allow Russia to use the same argument to defend its misdeeds, then she's really got a problem. The U.S. did not set any new precedents in this regard. It has always, since long before the U.S. existed, been the case that a nation could justify unpopular actions by appealing to its own best interests, because it is sovereign.

Just look at the last nearly 100 years of Russia: it has been the principle advocate of the application of this idea in using force against others, controlling half of Europe for 40 years based on it. The Russians have been battling the Chechens for more than 10 years, long before we invaded Iraq. When Clinton was President, in 1999, Yeltsin sent 100K troops into the Chechnyan capital, creating a quarter-million refugees. Russia was aiding Iran and doing business with Iraq for years preceding the invasion of Iraq.

So, I'll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she didn't mean we gave Russia the idea. However, if in all this she means that the U.S. is incapable of responding to Russia's use of the argument, then she is not much better off.

This argument is, essentially, that if I asked a court to let me out of a speeding ticket because someone in cardiac arrest was in my car and I was en route to the hospital, I could not favor speeding tickets for people who were merely late for work.

It's a similar argument that people make when they say, "why don't we invade North Korea or Iran, since they have WMD and Iraq didn't?" It's failing to even acknowledge that differences exist, let alone that they must be evaluated and dealt with accordingly.

Since the beginning of the Republic, we have had to evaluate claims of "best interests" on their own merits, and in relationship to our own interests, just as every other nation does. The Revolutionary War itself was based on this fundamental problem of conflicting sovereignties.

Now, it certainly makes temporary political and journalistic hay to attack someone for being apparently hypocritical in such regards, but history doesn't normally recognize such lack of differentiation. History can tell the difference between North Korea and Iraq, between Grozny and Baghdad, between Putin and Bush. History evaluates claims on their own merits: it doesn't lump them all together just because similar justifications were used for them.

It may be that our justifications are no better than theirs. But that is something that everyone decides for themselves, and if Putin advances this notion, it is not because it's true, but because he is hoping to gain the support of people who might agree with it or be otherwise convinced, which would be precisely what Putin might do even if Dowd agreed with the U.S. justifications, because it is at that point about politics, not truth. The U.S. has to worry about this problem and guard against it no matter what we've done and no matter what our means or motives.

All this just to say that this is the problem with the Dowd narrative style: it dismisses information that don't fit, and misrepresents much of the information in order to make it fit, all for the purpose of fitting into some artificial and arbitrary narrative that makes her feel superior. It makes for entertaining articles for people who like to bitch about the President at Manhattan cocktail parties, but it is shallow and boring.

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