Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Fisking 101

There's a new kind of political commentary born of the Internet. It's called fisking, and it's a lot of fun. It consists of dissecting a written piece of drivel line by line, so that readers can appreciate the absurdity of incoherent arguments to a fine level of detail. Some people have a talent for fisking. Others need to learn it by example. Today's entry is in the nature of a public service for the latter group. Every once in a while a published piece of political writing is just so perfect a candidate for the exercise of fisking that it can be used as an object lesson for the uninitiated. Senator John Kerry's essay on Iraq, published in today's edition of the Washington Post, is such a candidate. In fisking it at such length, we mean no disrespect to the tallest senator from Massachusetts. We realize that his wisdom about foreign policy is of a quantum nature -- meaning that he is capable of advocating all possible positions on Iraq simultaneously -- and therefore cannot be adequately characterized by any single line of argument. We are confident that in the days and weeks to come, his arguments will encompass every other shade of nuance the issue offers, and he will ultimately have come to say, in the summation of his remarks over time at least, what every single person in the U.S. wants to hear. Today's fisking is thus no more than an academic exercise, a rhetorical tutorial if you will. Are we clear on that? Then let's have at it.

A Strategy for Iraq

By John F. Kerry
Tuesday, April 13, 2004; Page A19, the Washington Post.

To be successful in Iraq, and in any war for that matter, our use of force must be tied to a political objective more complete than the ouster of a regime. [Seems to me the only political objective we had in WWII was ouster of the Nazis in Germany and the militarist regime in Japan, but putting that aside, wouldn't the objective of establishing the first democratic government in an Arab state count?] To date, that has not happened in Iraq. [Excuse me? I thought we just covered this.] It is time it did. [Very careful use of pronouns here… not that it adds up to a very good sentence. The key word in the thought is 'happened,' which would seem to describe an action that requires no agent. Any other verb the writer might choose would probably need the pronoun 'they' or 'we.' The former would concede too much authority to the Bush administration. The latter would raise the question of why he has not participated in this necessary process before now. Perhaps he was too busy taking opportunistic advantage of every negative event that's occurred during the past year. At least we can now understand why a bad sentence was so necessary here…]

In the past week the situation in Iraq has taken a dramatic turn for the worse. [Wouldn't it be more nuanced to say that among the ups and downs that accompany any nation building program, the past week has been a down period? 'Better' and 'worse' are harder to define in objective turns without knowing the end result. Was the Battle of the Bulge really a 'dramatic turn for the worse' for the allies, or was it the last gasp of a defeated German army that caved in after its doomed and bloody gambit failed?] While we may have differed on how we went to war, Americans of all political persuasions are united in our determination to succeed. [Was this sentence cleared with your close friend and fellow Massachusetts senator Teddy Kennedy? And does this mean he wasn't really speaking on your behalf when he blubbered for an exit strategy from 'George Bush's Vietnam'? Could you take just a second to clear that up? No, I thought you couldn't] The extremists attacking our forces should know they will not succeed in dividing America, or in sapping American resolve, or in forcing the premature withdrawal of U.S. troops. [How could they know that while Kennedy and Byrd are practically writing their propaganda for them and your backers at, and the DailyKos are celebrating American casualties and setbacks as lustily as any Islamofascist?] Our country is committed to help the Iraqis build a stable, peaceful and pluralistic society. [A quick point here… Granting that you do actually mean this, please try repeating this sentence while pretending to be every other member of the U.N. Security Council: e.g., Algeria, Angola, Brazil, China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, Spain…? We'll get back to this a little later on.] No matter who is elected president in November, we will persevere in that mission. [Now, is this one of those things that you are for before you turn against it? Because it kind of seems like one of those things you were against before you were for it, which raises the possibility that you could be somewhere in the middle of your usual 'for' and 'against' dance, meaning that the less nuanced among us might conclude we shouldn't trust a word you have to say on the subject.]

But to maximize our chances for success, and to minimize the risk of failure, we must make full use of the assets we have. If our military commanders request more troops, we should deploy them. [Does that mean senators should also vote for the appropriations that pay for them? You'll never guess why we're asking…] Progress is not possible in Iraq if people lack the security to go about the business of daily life. [Or if they think we're going to abandon them because partisan political leaders in the U.S. wax hysterical about every act of protest, terrorism, and murder in Iraq…] Yet the military alone cannot win the peace in Iraq. We need a political strategy that will work. [Didn't you say this at the end of your first paragraph? Does this mean you haven't even started to make your point yet? Why is this not surprising, Senator Kerry?]

Over the past year the Bush administration has advanced several plans for a transition to democratic rule in Iraq. [Alternatively, one could say that the administration has a political strategy of transitioning to democratic rule in Iraq and has, accordingly, proposed a variety of plans for achieving the strategy, realizing that the Iraqis are responsible for getting behind one plan and making it work. Or are you trying to tell us that you cannot distinguish between a strategy and a plan and therefore believe them to be the same thing?] Each of those plans, after proving to be unworkable, was abandoned. [It would have been better to proceed with a proposed plan that proved to be unworkable, because it's much much better to impose the 'right answer' than to respond flexibly to a complex and developing situation. Is that what you mean, Senator Kerry?] The administration has set a date (June 30) for returning authority to an Iraqi entity to run the country, but there is no agreement with the Iraqis on how it will be constituted to make it representative enough to have popular legitimacy. [If memory serves -- and pardon us if memory is an inconvenient tool in liberal political science -- wasn't it the U.N. which demanded a specific date for the turnover of power from the oppressive American occupation to the Iraqis? And wasn't it the case that the U.N. insisted on a much earlier date than June 30, and that the administration's compromise date was criticized by liberals as being yet another example of the U.S. thumbing its nose at U.N. authority?] Because of the way the White House has run the war, we are left with the United States bearing most of the costs and risks associated with every aspect of the Iraqi transition. [Just experimenting here, but what if we replaced the first part of your sentence with "Because of the way U.N. officials and member states of the Security Council have corrupted and compromised the integrity of the U.N.'s decision-making process with their participation in Saddam Hussein's Oil-for-Food debacle"? Would that put anything in a different light for you? We thought not. Sorry about the interruption.] We have lost lives, time, momentum and credibility. [See? We shouldn't have jumped the gun a sentence back. Because it's clear that while the U.S. has lost lives, time, momentum, and credibility, the U.N. has not disregarded lives, wasted time, sabotaged momentum, or made its own credibility a laughing-stock. We get it now.] And we are seeing increasing numbers of Iraqis lashing out at the United States to express their frustration over what the Bush administration has and hasn't done. [You got that one right. At least 10 or 20 thousand of 25 million Iraqis are lashing out in a big way. Even Saddam Hussein knew that you have to have unanimity in an Arab state, which is why he always won reelection with 99.5 percent of the vote. So sad that he's no longer in charge.]

In recent weeks the administration -- in effect acknowledging the failure of its own efforts -- has turned to U.N. representative Lakhdar Brahimi to develop a formula for an interim Iraqi government that each of the major Iraqi factions can accept. [Let's see. As corrupt and anti-democratic as the U.N. is, it's still trying harder to make things work in Iraq than any of the Democrat candidates for President have in the last six months? Interesting.] It is vital that Brahimi accomplish this mission, but the odds are long, because tensions have been allowed to build and distrust among the various Iraqi groups runs deep. [When did the distrust among the various Iraqi groups begin? Boy, there's another great reason why Saddam should have been left in charge. A few mass graves can do wonders in securing cooperation among the Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds. I guess France really did know best.] The United States can bolster Brahimi's limited leverage by saying in advance that we will support any plan he proposes that gains the support of Iraqi leaders. [Diplomacy always works best when you give a blank check to any shadowy power broker who sticks his nose under the tent.] Moving forward, the administration must make the United Nations a full partner responsible for developing Iraq's transition to a new constitution and government. [Here we go. That's the ticket. Make the U.N. a full partner. It's called division of labor. Give them all the authority, and give the U.S. all the responsibility and cost of obeying the U.N.'s commands. That's obviously what's best for the people of the United States, whom you're asking to elect you president.] We also need to renew our effort to attract international support in the form of boots on the ground to create a climate of security in Iraq. [Sorry. Guess we jumped the gun again. We'll be off the hook militarily when we get reinforced by all those boots on the ground from France (500 cooks), Germany (1500 motor pool mechanics), Algeria (2500 undercover terrorists), the Philipines (3000 undercover terrorists), Pakistan (5000 undercover terrorists), the Russian Federation (3500 KGB operatives), Angola (500 Cuban mercenaries), Brazil (500 carnival dancers), and Spain (oh right, Osama has made them see reason at last}.] We need more troops and more people who can train Iraqi troops and assist Iraqi police. [Because if we don't keep pouring in more troops, Iraq will turn into a quagmire like Vietnam. How many troops would be enough to head off the quagmire possibility? How about 450,000? That's the number LBJ worked out. We could put them all together in great big barracks, say 30,000 or so per barrack, where the right kind of truck bomb could… Oh. That's not what you meant? Sorry.]

We should urge NATO to create a new out-of-area operation for Iraq under the lead of a U.S. commander. This would help us obtain more troops from major powers. [NATO too! Even more boots on the ground. That means we can add some Greeks (1000 undercover terrorists), Turks (3000 anti-Kurd agitators), and Austrians (200 musicians) to the mix.] The events of the past week will make foreign governments extremely reluctant to put their citizens at risk. [They were never reluctant before the past few weeks. They used to show up with dozens of combat divisions back in the good old days of Kossovo and Rwanda and Somalia. Remember?] That is why international acceptance of responsibility for stabilizing Iraq must be matched by international authority for managing the remainder of the Iraqi transition. The United Nations, not the United States, should be the primary civilian partner in working with Iraqi leaders [We got this part already. Honest. You couldn't be more clear about the advantage to the American people of placing U.S. troops under feckless U.N. authority.] to hold elections [a particular area of U.N. expertise], restore government services [operational efficiency -- another U.N. strong suit], rebuild the economy [Of course. Folly to think that any American could know more about rebuilding an economy than the U.N.], and re-create a sense of hope and optimism among the Iraqi people [Fascinated by the use of the prefix 're' here in front of the verb 'create.' We need to get back to the halcyon days when the Iraqis had all that hope and optimism, and all those palaces and rape rooms, in the glory days of Saddam.]. The primary responsibility for security must remain with the U.S. military, preferably helped by NATO until we have an Iraqi security force fully prepared to take responsibility. [What happened to all those boots on the ground we got by bringing in the U.N. and NATO? Oh. You were just kidding about that. Guess what. We kind of knew that a few paragraphs ago,]

Finally, we must level with our citizens. Increasingly, the American people are confused about our goals in Iraq, particularly why we are going it almost alone [i.e., completely alone, except for Albania, Britain, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine]. The president must rally the country around a clear and credible goal. [We're catching up now: the clear and credible goal? GETTING THE HELL OUT. Do we get a gold star?] The challenges are significant and the costs are high. But the stakes are too great to lose the support of the American people. [Which is why you haven't spent the last year undermining U.S. foreign policy with ceaseless second-guessing, carping, ranting, and raving about every single decision taken by the Bush administration in Iraq…]

This morning, as we sit down to read newspapers in the comfort of our homes or offices, we have an obligation to think of our fighting men and women in Iraq who awake each morning to a shooting gallery in which it is exceedingly difficult to distinguish friend from foe, and the death of every innocent creates more enemies. We owe it to our soldiers and Marines to use absolutely every tool we can muster to help them succeed in their mission without exposing them to unnecessary risk. That is not a partisan proposal. It is a matter of national honor and trust. [We were right there with you for the whole paragraph until you cited honor and trust. Whose? Yours? If so, we'll take a pass. No offense. That's not a partisan remark. Just a twinge of an archaic complaint called patriotism. Does this mean we're questioning yours? (Horrors!) Yes it does. Absolutely.]

Sen. Kerry (D-Mass.) is the presumptive Democratic nominee for president [To quote from what must be one of Senator Kerry's favorite movies, "Oh… the Horror."]

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