Barry Eisler

Friday, May 09, 2008

McCain the Manchurian Candidate

John McCain was at it again today, suggesting that Americans shouldn't vote for Obama because a Hamas spokesman spoke well of McCain's opponent. As a McCain fundraising email put it recently:
Barack Obama's foreign policy plans have even won him praise from Hamas leaders. Ahmed Yousef, chief political adviser to the Hamas Prime Minister said, "We like Mr. Obama and we hope he will win the election. He has a vision to change America."

We need change in America, but not the kind of change that wins kind words from Hamas, surrenders in Iraq and will hold unconditional talks with Iranian President Ahmadinejad.

Yes, McCain is being rightly condemned for trying to smear Obama by suggesting he's tied to a terrorist organization. What's been ignored, though, is something much worse: whether out of cynicism, stupidity, or moral obtuseness, John McCain claims to believe that Americans should base their political decisions on the opinions of terrorists. What difference does it make whether McCain says, "We should do what they don't want" or "We should do what they want?" Either way, he proposes that Americans surrender our own judgment in favor of that of Hamas. If McCain were a Democrat, Republicans would be calling him The Manchurian Candidate.

It would be easier to dismiss as crass cynicism McCain's repeated attempts to enlist Hamas's assistance if McCain's brand of "What would Osama do?" weren't so widespread in today's Republican party. Michelle Malkin wants to know which terrorists support which Democratic candidate (Translation: "Don't make up your own mind; ask the FALN!"). GOP Congressman Steve King objects to Obama's candidacy because, he claims, "The radical Islamists, the al-Qaida … would be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on Sept. 11 because they would declare victory in this war on terror" (Translation: "What more do you need to decide other than what I think would make AQ happy!") King goes on to argue that Obama's "middle name does matter. It matters because they read a meaning into that" (Translation: "It's not up to us to decide whether something matters. That's up to Osama bin Laden!") (And by the way, any time someone builds his whole argument on a cliche like "dancing in the streets," he's either exceptionally unimaginative or he's bullshitting you. Or both).

Perhaps worst of all are the people who argue that we need to torture because al Qaeda does even worse things (sorry, aggressively question, or harshly interrogate... and not suspects, if they're in custody it means they're actually terrorists... sheesh, if you really think we should torture prisoners, why not just come on out and make an argument in favor? Why all the flim-flam and doubletalk? What are torture proponents so afraid of? But I digress...). Maybe we could call this the "We're Good Because Al Qaeda is Worse" defense? Or the "Al Qaeda Gave Us Permission" defense?

Look, is the theory that we don't torture only because our enemies don't? Or should it be that we don't torture because we're Americans? As an American, I'd rather develop my own moral code, rather than basing it on what, say, al Qaeda does or doesn't do. But as you can tell from the recent statements of McCain and other Republican politicians and commentators, the notion that Americans should make own own political, tactical, and moral decisions without reference to how terrorists behave or what they claim to believe has become an alien notion.

The really hilarious part of all this is that the same Republicans who think terrorists are so diabolically clever that they can blink code to each other even after three years in captivity believe these same diabolically clever terrorists are unable to grasp the most rudimentary elements of reverse psychology. I mean, what if... going out on a limb here... the code blinkers were just sophisticated enough to figure out the Republican mindset, and run a psyops campaign accordingly? Something like:
Terrorist #1: Did you catch the latest US National Intelligence Estimate? It says the war in Iraq is breeding more terrorists. You think the infidels are catching on to us?

Terrorist #2: Nah, they're not that smart. Look at how Osama was able to provoke them into this massive terrorist-creating enterprise in the first place. More terrorists than ever, America trillions of dollar in debt, the US military nearly broken, Afghanistan falling back into our hands, North Korea going nuclear while American was distracted, the dollar collapsing, Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo... the Iraq war is the best thing that ever happened to us.

Terrorist #1: So you think they might elect McCain this year? He says it would be fine with him to keep the infidel armies in Iraq for 100 years. That would be great for us.

Terrorist #2: Sadly, I don't think it looks good for McCain. Polls show 76% of Americans want a candidate different from Bush.

Terrorist #1: So what can we do?

Terrorist #2: Well, Republicans aren't very good at thinking for themselves. They say they torture because we torture. And whatever we say we like, they say they want the opposite.

Terrorist #1: So...

Terrorist #2: Exactly. Get that Hamas guy to say we like Obama. McCain will pick it up and run with it, and use it to get other dim Americans to vote against Obama. Then we can have that third Bush term, and Americans will be in Iraq for 100 years. Our ranks will continually swell.

Terrorist #1: Allahu Akhbar!

Nah, terrorists could never come up with something like that. And when Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners to join Operation Chaos and vote for Hillary, it means he really supports her, too.

So who's really the party of Hamas and al Qaeda? Who are the real terrorist tools?
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Blogger PBI said...

I think I'm sensing some of the same frustration in this post that I'm feeling pretty much all the time!

What worries me is that, while a huge majority of the country wants someone different than Bush, the media continues to paint McCain as some sort of level-headed moderate who won't talk out of both sides of his mouth, massive piles of evidence to the contrary. As I wrote in one of my own recent posts, If You Liked George, You're Going To Love John, "Make no mistake; the media is without a doubt as big a political force in the 2008 presidential elections as any of the candidates, and not in a good way." One thing is for certain - as amply proved by the utterly abysmal ABC News Democratic debate last month - we need to hold the media accountable.

Otherwise, the terrorists win! ; )

Sensen No Sen

Friday, May 09, 2008 9:48:00 PM  
Anonymous ShooterJ said...

Come one Barry. First you blast McCain for broadcasting the comments Hamas made about Obama then you do the exact same thing. The difference is that you are making a large assumption in that fact that it is some master plan to get McCain elected. Well I am glad you foiled it. It is also a stretch to suggest that McCain is advocating that Americans don't decide who they vote for on their own. When deciding on a candidate any information is relevant. If a potential voter is pro life and a pro choice group endorses a particular candidate, then it might say something about where the policies of the candidate are.

Friday, May 09, 2008 9:52:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Paul, thanks for the comment, and that was another great post. Glenn Greenwald (I know you read him, too) has also been unsparing in his use of actual facts (!) to explode the "McCain is a Maverick" myth.

Shooter, I don't care what Hamas wants in US politics. But if McCain and other Republicans want to suggest that it matters, then I'm happy to respond with my opinion about who Hamas actually favors. Similarly, I think Republican fulmination about Jeremiah Wright and so many other wedge issues is a waste of oxygen, but if Republicans want to run on this nonsense, we have to apply their "principles" equally to them. For more, give Glenn Greenwald's "Great American Hypocrites" a try...


Friday, May 09, 2008 10:16:00 PM  
Anonymous Big Shaker said...

Barry, with all due respect, your accusations here are disingenuous. You know McCain is not the smearing type; he did not "try to tie Obama to a terrorist organization." He noted, correctly and fairly, that Hamas favors Obama in the election. The point is that paying attention to which candidate the enemies of America favor is one legitimate consideration (not the only one, and not the same as telling people not to make up their own minds). When, for another example, Castro apologist Michael Moore, another enemy of America, throws his support behind Obama, that should send up a very bright red flag. And I hope you don't seriously believe the Islamists secretly want McCain to win. Why would they, when Obama's solution to Islamic terrorism is to sit down and have "dialogue" with the jihadists?

Friday, May 09, 2008 11:50:00 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

Shaker, your protestations to the contrary, accusing me of disingenuousness is inherently disrespectful. I assure you, I am entirely sincere, and I don't understand what could cause you to suggest otherwise.

I "know McCain is not the smearing type"? How would I know such a thing? What evidence would I have for that conclusion? In fact, as I have argued, the evidence suggests the opposite.

But let's not get sidetracked with an argument about what "type" McCain is or with the definition of a smear. If you really believe McCain isn't trying to tie Obama to Hamas, then, respectfully, either you don't understand the nature of political marketing or you are blinded to the obvious by an unwillingness to believe St. John could fight dirty. Obama/Hamas is *exactly* the association McCain wants voters to make. It's the same fundamental technique Lee Atwater used to, as he put it, make people think Willie Horton was Michael Dukakis's running mate. Would you argue that no, all Atwater was doing was correctly and fairly noting that Dukakis furloughed Horton, that he had no other objective but that?

You say, "The point is that paying attention to which candidate the enemies of America favor is one legitimate consideration (not the only one, and not the same as telling people not to make up their own minds)." Actually favor? Or *say* they favor? Again: are the otherwise diabolically clever enemies of America so unsophisticated that they don't understand how people like you will conflate stated opinions with true beliefs? Again, if terrorists know that certain Americans treat terrorist opinions as a "legitimate consideration" when casting their votes in a presidential election, is it possible that terrorists might make statements intended to manipulate those gullible Americans into doing exactly what the terrorists want?

Apart from how taking terrorist statements at face value and giving them weight in our own political process is naive and dangerous, I will concede that the opinions of third parties are not always irrelevant. In fact, in a post some months back, I suggested as an aside that if someone like Ann Coulter is apoplectic over McCain, there must be something good about him. But I maintain that the relevancy of such third party opinions is low. Moreover, I would suggest that when it's likely the prejudicial impact of evidence exceeds its probative value, the evidence should, just as in court, be inadmissible -- and that when a politician insists on admitting such evidence anyway, it's entirely correct to accuse that politician of a smear.

You say, "And I hope you don't seriously believe the Islamists secretly want McCain to win." Shaker, respectfully, did you really read my post? Did you read the imagined conversation between Terrorist #1 and Terrorist #2? I believe President Bush has done incalculable damage to America in pursuing his war on terror. I believe McCain represents, for shorthand's sake, a third term for Bush. Of course I believe Islamists want McCain to win. If Bush could have an actual third term, I believe they'd want that even more.

You say, "Why would [the Islamists secretly want McCain to win], when Obama's solution to Islamic terrorism is to sit down and have "dialogue" with the jihadists?"

First, you have your facts wrong. Obama has argued for nothing of the kind, and the fact that you apparently believe otherwise suggests that McCain's tactics are having precisely their desired effect.

But your formulation isn't only wrong; it's also silly. I could as easily (albeit more accurately) say that McCain's "solution to Islamic terrorism" is to just occupy Iraq for 100 or 10,000 years, with bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran" as accompaniment. Hopefully McCain has a bit more (actually, bit less) in mind than just that.

Your factual errors aside, I'm always curious about why people profess horror at the notion of dialogue with our enemies. Is it presidential dialogue you abhor, or diplomatic contact of any kind? And if we were able to prevail in the Cold War while repeatedly holding presidential summits with the various heads of the then Evil Empire, why were such meetings okay then but outside the realm of respectable consideration now? Was Reagan a naive weakling for meeting Gorbachev? What would be the actual mechanics of the diplomatic silent treatment, and how do you believe the silent treatment would advance our policy goals?

I've yet to come across persuasive answers to any of these questions; in their absence, I can only conclude that the silent treatment is at heart a kind of emotional reflex: "we don't like you, so damned if we're going to talk to you!" Now, jamming our fingers in our ears and chanting "nah-nah-nah-nah-nah" might be an understandable human impulse. But it's a pretty unsophisticated and ineffective basis for foreign policy.


Saturday, May 10, 2008 8:45:00 AM  
Anonymous Big Shaker said...

Barry, thanks for taking the time to respond extensively to my comment. First let me apologize for the incorrect use of "disingenuous." “Misleading" or "exaggerated" is preferable, but I wrote the comment late last night and my language was imprecise. I certainly did not mean to accuse you of insincerity.

Anyway, I said McCain isn't the smearing type (nor is Obama) simply because I haven't seen evidence to the contrary; perhaps my definition of "smear" is harsher than yours. Geraldine Ferraro being called racist because of her recent comment about Obama is an example of what I consider a smear, or the New York Times painting McCain as a philanderer. Anyway, I don't disagree that both candidates and/or their handlers will use the techniques of political marketing that we see every election (or every day on Capitol Hill, for that matter). Voters should take all these political messages with a very large grain of salt. But my disagreement is with your phrase "tied to a terrorist organization," which makes it sound like McCain's camp is claiming Obama is a card-carrying Hamas member or supports their goals. Agreed, McCain's camp does want voters to make an association, but as I said before, the point is not that Obama favors Hamas and their ilk, because he certainly doesn't and everyone knows it, but that they favor him, and I believe that does say something about a candidate. And agreed too, it's possible that the Islamists could be resorting to disinformation, so that's something else to take with a grain of salt. I believe, however, that in the past America has not taken our enemy's words at face value often enough, and we still don't. You say that giving their statements weight in our political process is naive and dangerous, but I would argue exactly the opposite. Surely some - not all - of their statements are worth throwing into the mix. Separating the truth from disinformation is a factor, yes. And of course, deciding how much weight to give it is the voter's individual decision.

I also agree with you that Bush has done incalculable damage in the ill-named war on terror. But I disagree that McCain represents a 3rd term for Bush. I suppose we could debate all day about that, and without resolution, so I'll leave it at that.

My comment about Obama sitting down with the Islamists is based largely on Obama stating (I don't have the link, sorry) that when elected, one of the first things he would do is sit down with the leaders of the Muslim world to discuss the growing gap between it and the West. I personally find this pathetic. The link you posted to prove that I have my facts wrong about his stance does nothing of the sort. It was to a New York Times article (editorial? It's hard to tell, since, unsurprisingly, it was so clearly biased against McCain and painted him as a smearer) in which Obama repudiated any link to Hamas; it said nothing to disprove my contention about Obama's approach to dealing with the clash of civilizations (or more correctly, the clash of civilization and barbarism). And I'd like to point out that I came to that conclusion long ago because of that statement and similar ones from Obama, not because I gullibly bought McCain's recent "tactics."

I have nothing against diplomacy and certainly not a "horror of the notion of dialogue." Your comment about "putting fingers in our ears and chanting nah-nah-nah" is another exaggeration. But I believe dialogue with the Islamists is worse than futile, because they themselves are not interested in compromise and they consider "dialogue" with the enemy to be contemptible weakness; they are, however, willing to pretend to engage in dialogue as a delaying tactic. When they prove they're willing to engage in genuine diplomacy themselves, and when they abandon their goal of Islamic supremacism in a worldwide caliphate, then fine, dialogue is the answer.

I'll have to give you the last word because I can't afford to contribute often - I'm envious of your time management skills. Thanks for engaging me and keep up the good work on Rain!

Saturday, May 10, 2008 3:34:00 PM  
Blogger PBI said...


At the risk of parrotting Rush Limbaugh's crowd, "Ditto" on your last comment. Well said.

The only reason to support the John McCain of 2008 - who is a very different political animal than the John McCain of 2000 - is if you think George W. Bush has done a great job.

Take care,
Sensen No Sen

Saturday, May 10, 2008 4:02:00 PM  
Blogger Joshua James said...

"Geraldine Ferraro being called racist because of her recent comment about Obama is an example of what I consider a smear, or the New York Times painting McCain as a philanderer."

Hmm. Well in terms of Ferraro, when you say something racist, I think it's not only correct for the media to call them out for it, it's also a thing the media SHOULD do.

And while I don't think a politician's sex life should be part of the campaign, it's my understanding that no one is PAINTING McCain a philanderer, it's what he was, according to his first wife, and while I don't have the link, even his staff was concerned about his relationship with a young staffer not too long ago.

So that's what he is, for better or worse. Again, I don't really see how that matters in terms of how good a politician one is, but seeing as that Republicans have made character and ethics and a person's personal life part and parcel of all their campaigns, what comes around goes around.

Certainly it seems John McCain is a liar, as evidenced by his claiming he never said he didn't vote for George Bush, despite several witnesses who heard him say it.

Lastly, if I had to choose between a President who was willing to sit down and negotiate a peace with other leaders, even ones we disapprove of (something leaders, I should add, are supposed to do) and dislike, and choosing a President who doesn't know the difference between Sunni and Shia and is confused about economics, I'll take the former, please.

And yes, I know that John McCain was a war hero. So was John Kerry.

Just because McCain was a great soldier doesn't mean he can't be a shitty politician. One does not exclude the other. He's a terrible hypocrite and it's too bad.

Saturday, May 10, 2008 9:37:00 PM  

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