Friday, November 15, 2002

Blame the Liberals. Here we go again, but this time, it's coming from the "good" guys. Richard Just has a web-only article in The American Prospect claiming that "any self-respecting liberal ought to support an invasion of Iraq". Is that so? Look, I'm used to eviscerating White House pro-invasion arguments. That's not hard, all you have to do is point out that they've presented absolutely no evidence to convince anyone anywhere in the world that Hussein is as much of a threat as Bush says he is. The next step is to argue that containment, via a tough weapons inspections scheme, is by far the better way to handle Saddam. So, the argument goes like this: 1) the case for invasion has not been made, and 2) there are better options available. I think it's useful to note what's happening on the Iraq issue right now, and to remember how adamant the White House was about the futility of weapons inspectors. Look around, people... even if the liberals lost on this issue in the election, they are winning on the issue in the real world. Oh, there's still plenty of time for the White House to go fishing for their ultimate justification for war, and they may even get the UN to go along with them, but by agreeing to do it this way, the White House has effectively admitted that, in fact, it doesn't have as much unilateral leeway to make war where and when it wants as it believes it does. That, my friends, is an unequivocal win for the liberal position.

Which is why it so disturbs me to see more and more lefties jumping over to support the losing side on this one. In this article, Richard Just starts out with a broad post-Cold War survey of the political landscape for US military interventionism. It's an interesting historical context, showing that while Republicans didn't want to help out abroad (a war to feed black people? --Never!!) and Nader was too timid and over-cautious, it was Clinton who had the dynamic, forward-looking foreign policy vision, and it called for the United States to be a world leader, and to use its own military supremacy actively, both in the protection of its own interests, and in fostering the interests of democracy and human rights worldwide.

Guess what, I have no problem with "the Clinton Plan". But neither Richard Just nor anyone else is going to convince me to invade Iraq by appealing to the glorious prophetic visions of Madelaine Albright. Why? Because Iraq is not Bosnia. Iraq is not Somalia. Iraq is not Haiti. Now is not then. It's fine to have a grand over-arching vision for American foreign policy (and I would say Gore needs to get one ASAP), but you still have to weigh the individual cases on the merits.

Just's counter-arguments against the liberal position are both misleading anbd weak. First, he creates a straw-man position for the liberals where they're only principle is "no invasion". He claims that the liberal position rests entirely on deterrence, and then argues that Hussein is impervious to this deterrence. That's funny, for man who can't be deterred, he's certainly not done much of anything to threaten the United States for nearly a decade. You see, if you argue that Hussein has been deterred, you imply that if he weren't, we'd be in trouble. So, if you argue that Hussein can't be deterred, then why has he taken no serious offensive steps against his great enemy in so long? If the United States can't deter him, and therefore hasn't deterred him, then why has he kept so quiet?

Perhaps because he's not ready yet. He's biding his time until he can get nuclear missiles and ICBMs to deliver them to the United States. Okay, first of all, he'll be waiting a long time. But, the core of this argument is reasonable. He does have a weapons program, and he is actively trying to augment is offensive capacity. That is something that the United States is and should be concerned about. But it is not best addressed by invasion.

In fact, there are a lot of good things that aren't addressed by invasion. Richard Just lists them in the final paragraphs of his article, but claims that they aren't addressed by deterrence. Containment won't help the Israel-Palestine problem, therefore we should invade Iraq. That's what he said! I was shocked too. The obvious question is whether or not invasion will help the Israel-Palestine problem. The answer to that question is probably not. In fact, it could well inflame the problem. But containment won't address the root causes of terrorism, so we should invade Iraq. But invasion will also not address the root causes of terrorism, and will likely inflame more terrorists against us. [Just claims that deterrence will make the root causes of terrorism worse, but I don't see it. He declines to explain the point.]

Honestly, I'm really not as far away from Just's position as I appear to be. Just says that he supports invasion reluctantly. I'm also reluctant to support invasion, but I won't actually get behind until I'm convinced that other, better options have been given a good faith effort. That's why I'm thrilled that we're getting new weapons-inspectors, and that despite the cowardice of the Congress, right-thinking people in the ineffectual United Nations were able to band together against Bush, grow a backbone overnight, and insist that if Bush was so desperate to invade Iraq, at the very least he was going to do it the right way. Who was it who argued that Bush's arrogance would have the effect of strengthening the United Nations against us? Oh right, I think it was me. [Actually I said the EU, but what the hell was I thinking? I should have said the UN, so let's all suppose I did.]

And of course, no discussion of Iraq would be complete without the words: "Where's Osama?" That's another point Just didn't address: the issue of prioritization. This country has scarce economic resources, which is why we have to make decisions between eliminating the estate tax or passing decent unemployment insurance. We also have scarce military resources, which means we have to make choices about military priorities. With al Qaeda threatening more terror, Afghanistan a chaotic mess, and North Korea announcing its nuclear weapons program, does anyone really think that Iraq is public enemy number one?

Thursday, November 14, 2002

The Bond Project: Diamonds Are Forever. Not for the first time, the single best thing I can say about this film is that I quite liked the theme song. Following on the heels of On Her Majesty's Secret Service, this film is actually quite jarring. It's a step forward and a step back at the same time. It viciously wipes away the depth of character, the drama, and the tone introduced in the preceding film, but also points the way forward to the new era of high camp in the Bond franchise. Sure, You Only Live Twice had its camp bits, but nothing would have prepared Bond fans for this debacle.

Bond is on a personal crusade to get Blofeld. Why? Well, presumably because Blofeld killed his wife, but no mention of this is made in the film, and Bond doesn't seem too shy about getting back to his old tricks with the ladies. Anyway, over the course of an extremely choppy, slapdash opening sequence (it's almost a montage), Bond tracks Blofeld down, quipping his way oh so wittily to his enemy's hideout. There, they fight a bit, but Blofeld escapes, and the title sequence begins. As I said, this is the most enjoyable moment in the film, so savor every sultry note of it. [I especially the repetition: "Diamonds are for-eh-VAH, for-eh-VAH, for-reh-VAH!"] After that, you get assaulted by Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, who couldn't possibly be any more camp. They also couldn't be any more annoying, or insufferably bad. They are badly written, and even more badly acted.

Nevertheless, the first act of the film is actually fairly interesting, storywise. Bond is tracking down a diamond smuggling operation, working undercover. This leads to a terrific introductory scene with Tiffany Case (who, despite the promise of her opening scene, quickly degenerates into one of the least charismatic Bond girls thus far), and a marvellous hand-to-hand fight scene in an elevator. Seriously, once that is over, I advise the you shut off the movie and go watch something more intellectually stimulating, like "Friends", or maybe "Teletubbies", because the rest of this film will have you smashing your head into a brick wall just to drown out the agony.

Charles Gray makes a passable Blofeld, but he seems a little too refined for my tastes. Whereas Donald Pleasance was smarmy little git and Telly Savalas had a bit of a ferocious streak, Gray comes off as elegant to the point of being bland. Previous Blofeld's clearly had an affectation of elegance, concealing the darker reality. Gray's Blofeld is all affectation. Which is a shame, because I quite like Charles Gray (and you should try to see his performance as Mycroft Holmes in Granada Television's "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"... he's quite good).

This film also has some truly tedious "action" sequences. For my money, this film and it's direct successor mark the undeniable low-point of the franchise, and it would spend most of the Roger Moore years trying to claw it's way back to respectability. Never hurt the box office, though.

The Bottom Line: avoid this film at all costs.

The Bond Project will continue with Live and Let Die.