Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Hyman Makes a Platform Pretzel

Perhaps it’s cruel to point out errors and misrepresentations in Mark Hyman’s commentaries these days. Frankly, were surprised he has the time or energy to put together a commentary at all. Sinclair’s stock continues to plummet, advertisers are pulling out, and stock-holder lawsuits and allegations of insider trading by Sinclair’s owners are now surfacing.

But as Sinclair continues sink, Hyman seems content to go down with the ship, firing away haphazard and misguided shots as he goes.
The latest is what appears to be the first in a planned series comparing the party platforms. His focus this time around is Iraq.

Pointing out a few similarities between the
DNC and RNC platforms, Hyman then goes into a series of differences he sees in the parties’ approaches to Iraq (which he conflates with terrorism generally).

There are a number of distortions here, but a few pop out as particularly noteworthy. First, as one of the “similarities” between platforms, Hyman says both the DNC and RNC agree that building coalitions is important. The difference is that the idea of building coalitions is a central part of the Democratic platform’s plan to fight terrorism, while it is mentioned briefly in the RNC platform, and even then mostly in shoring up the lame assertion that the “coalition” now in Iraq is broad-based. Moreover, the Republican platform uses the “with us or against us” language that helped build up barriers to begin with. As any parent of a child serving in Iraq can tell you, it’s Americans (and Iraqis themselves) who are doing the fighting and dying. The “coalition” is a paperwork fiction.

Hyman then pulls a rhetorical fast one by saying that the Republican and Democratic platforms disagree about “the U.S. military’s effort to topple Saddam Hussein.” Note that the active agent in this construction of the war becomes the U.S. military, not president Bush. The effect here is to suggest the war was not a politically motivated act precipitated by the policy agenda of the administration, but simply an act of the military that was to be supported or opposed. Not only does this downplay the president’s role in starting the war, but it also subtly continues the insinuation that John Kerry and/or the Democrats are “anti-military.”

This is followed up by the claim that Democrats feel that further “foreign political approval” was needed before acting militarily (shades of the “global test” canard that Republicans have clumsily tried to used against Kerry). Of course, this isn’t true. Democrats (and a lot of other people) wanted more conclusive proof that Iraq had WMD capability and to therefore have the evidence needed to win the support of a broader coalition before starting a preemptive war that would certainly result in thousands of deaths. Out of interest for future political stability and the lives of our soldiers who would (and did) end up doing most of the dying in a war waged almost solely by the U.S., the Democrats feel more diplomatic groundwork should have been done before launching headlong into a war for which there was no end-game planned. In fact, the Democratic platform specifically states that the U.S. should not be restricted by any foreign government or global alliance when it comes to defending itself, even preemptively. The platform does say, however, that America must lead others rather than going it alone.

Hyman also makes the claim that the Democratic platform does not support carrying out U.N. Resolution 1441, the resolution that called for Iraq to disarm and was then used as a fig leaf to legitimate invasion. Everyone (even the French!) was all for Resolution 1441. The problem was that the resolution, contrary to Hyman’s characterization of it, did not authorize force. It gave Iraq a deadline for turning over information about its weapons programs. Iraq provided information. It then was up to inspectors to verify whether or not Iraq’s actions constituted compliance with 1441 or not. But the Bush administration was unwilling to wait. Had they, perhaps we would have learned long ago that there were no WMDs in Iraq, and we wouldn’t have lost more than 1000 soldiers (and counting) to find out.

By the way, Resolution 1441 was only about WMDs. Nowhere was there any statement by the U.N. about ties to al-Quaeda or human rights issues being a cause for using force against Iraq. As noted, the resolution did not even specifically authorize force in the case of WMDs. This is significant because of the revisionist history done by Hyman and other Republicans who say (in the absence of WMDs) that it was ties to terror and Hussein’s brutality that were the moral pretext for the war.

Hyman closes by saying that Republicans see the war on terror as essentially a military effort, while the Democrats see it as law enforcement. To the extent this means that the Democratic platform emphasizes intelligence gathering far more than the Republican platform does, that’s correct. But in fact, the Democratic platform specifically spells out a strategy on terror that incorporates military, law enforcement, diplomatic, and economic aspects combined.

Here’s the relevant passage from the DNC platform:

Improving intelligence to find and stop terrorists. We will train and equip the military to enhance its capabilities to seek out and destroy terrorists. We will strengthen the capacity of intelligence and law enforcement around the world by forging stronger international coalitions to provide better information and communication. Third, in addition to our military might, we must deploy all that is in America's arsenal – our diplomacy, our intelligence system, our economic power, and the appeal of our values and ideas. Fourth and finally, to safeguard our freedom and ensure our nation's future, we must end our dependence on Mideast oil.

In fact, the most glaring difference between the RNC and DNC platforms is that the Democrats see energy policy as inextricably linked to foreign policy, particularly when it comes to the Mideast. The Republicans barely mention energy policy, talk about it exclusively in the context of domestic economic concerns, and champion more oil drilling as a long-term solution.

Might that have anything to do with who the guys are at the top of the G.O.P. ticket? We’re just wondering.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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