As I’ve said previously, I don’t have much use for political debates.
I think that debates are worse than useless.
I think that they’re dangerous.
I think that in general, the majority of the herd allows themselves to be easily manipulated and easily led and that they don’t give their own politics or ideology any actual thought whatsoever. Far too often their positions are based on inertia. Many people belong to a particular political party for the same reason they root for a particular sports team, or belong to a particular religion for that matter, i.e. they were born into it and therefore it’s the best, it’s the only right way to believe, and everybody else is wrong. Period.
I know a number of folks who belong to religions that they completely disagree with. I have variations of this conversation all of the time:
Me: You believe women have the right to choose?
Me: You believe that gay people should have the right to marry?
Him: Dude, WTF? I am gay. As you know, I’ve been in a committed relationship for twenty years, goddamn right I think I ought to be able to get hitched.
Me: You believe in evolution, right?
Him: Hello, biology teacher here.
Me: So why are you a Catholic again?
Him: Well, uh, see…
Me: You don’t agree with anything your religion preaches. Nothing. You are emphatically not welcome in your own place of worship. You can’t even go to church on Sunday as yourself and sit in a pew and hold hands with the person you love for fear of being thrown out. Right?
Him: Ok, look, uh, see what you don’t understand is, um, well… Ok, you know what? Fuck you.
I know a number of folks who belong to political parties that they completely disagree with. I have variations of this conversation all of the time:
Me: You believe women have the right to choose?
Her: Yes. I don’t like abortion and I would never have one myself, but I believe women should choose for themselves.
Me: You believe gay people should have the right to marry?
Her: I don’t see what that has to do with me. I don’t care what they do.
Me: You believe in evolution? Global climate change?
Her: It’s pretty hard to ignore the evidence. Yes.
Me: You think we should go to war with Iran?
Her: I think we’ve had enough war. We should find a different solution.
Me: You still in the Union?
Her: What do you have against unions? Unions built America. As a woman, it’s the only way I’m getting a decent paycheck and retirement and maybe a promotion.
Me: So then you think you’re lesser than men? That you should be subordinate to men? That you should make less money than men for doing the same job? That you should be barefoot and pregnant and more ladylike?
Her: Fuck you, Buddy.
Me: And why are you a republican again?
Her: Because liberals are baby eating communists who hate America. Also, Nazis.
And so on.
I know folks who vehemently disagree with every single plank in the GOP platform, and yet they will only vote Republican. Period. They can’t even conceive of voting for somebody who isn’t a conservative. I don’t understand this. It’s like Slaves Against the Cotton Gin or PETA for More Animal Experimentation or …well, Log Cabin Republicans.
For these folks, the labels are what matter.
Even if it means voting repeatedly against their own interests.
It’s not the ideology. It’s not the beliefs. It’s not the messages. It’s the label.
They were born one thing or the other, their parents and grandparents were one thing or the other, and so that’s what they are. Period.
The labels are more important than the details. It’s not an intellectual position, it’s an emotional one. That’s why these people get so angry when the wrong labels are applied to them. That’s why they see labels as such an affront and why they hurl labels as insults. Somebody calls you gay and you’re not – what the hell do you care? Really? So what? Somebody calls you a liberal or a conservative, and you’re not – again, what do you care? Except, of course, a lot of people do care. Furiously. Check out any IMDB, 4-Chan, Wall Street Journal, or Yahoo! comments forum, hell, check out the troll who showed up on my previous post and called me a “socialist fuck.” I’ve been called everything here on Stonekettle Station, from “a Bush Republican” to gay to a Nazi. I’m not insulted, I’m amused, because labels from anonymous haters that I don’t know just don’t mean shit to me.
But for a lot of people, labels are everything.
I suspect that debates primarily pander to the dumbed-down Reality TV mentality that has become so pervasive in recent American society. It is my considered opinion that debates pander to exactly this mentality. To the label makers and the label takers and the label throwers.
Political Debates are spectacle for the small minded.
And the problem with spectacle is that it’s designed to take the population’s focus off what really matters, it distracts from the real issues.
But it’s worse than that.
While spectacle can, and does, distract from the real issues, it can also cause the country as a whole to blunder off into completely new conflicts. Conflicts that are not only utterly stupid and don’t make a damned bit of difference one way or the other, but also serve to further divide the country. America is one of, if not the, strongest nation to ever exist. No outside force can destroy it. But like Rome, like the British Empire, like the Soviet Union, it can crumble from the inside. Spectacle can distract the population from that course, but it can also add to it.
Take Thursday’s Vice Presidential debate.
Today there are the usual dog whistles and smoke screens. Folks who loved Romney’s little smirk during last week’s debate, just couldn’t stand to see the same expression on Joe Biden’s face. Those that applauded Romney’s aggressiveness, denounced the same in Biden. Those that chastised last week’s moderator for not interrupting and being more forceful, condemned Thursday’s moderator for interrupting and being forceful. Bill O’Reilly said, “Joe Biden blew it!” Fox News said Biden’s parents might have taught him many things, but not manners – and yet when Obama was polite last week, both sides roundly condemned him for not being more blunt. Fox’s website had a banner across their lead story on Friday that said, “Biden needs to grow up before he grows older” and Michelle Malkin called it “the return of Smirky Malarkey McSmirk.” – because that’s the kind of adult commentary conservatives like right there.
These people couldn’t go after the substance of Biden’s message so they attacked his age and his parents and his expression.
That’s about par for the course.
That’s the same rabble rousing and pandering to the stupid and the ignorant and the simpleminded haters we always see and by next week it’ll all be forgotten.
That’s bad enough, but what should concern you is this: the theme that has emerged from the hair pulling and name calling and is now being considered with serious expressions by pundits and politicians across the nation is that the US embassy in Benghazi, Libya asked for more security, Obama and Biden were apparently oblivious and four Americans died including the Ambassador. Also, the White House lied about the situation – i.e. it was terrorism, not a riot.
That’s the message that emerged from Thursday night’s debate.
And that message is driving a wedge further into an already artificially divided country.
Show of hands, how many of you actually think that the President and Vice President personally review every request from every section under every department in the Executive Branch? C’mon, how many of you think that the president reviews each and every security plan, along with all the millions of other details necessary to run this nation and its interests here and abroad each and every day. Hell, how many of you think that even sounds like a good idea? Now don’t be shy, put your hands up if you think that.
Is that everybody?
You there, in the back with the drool on your chin and the confused look on your face, covered in cat hair and Pop Tart crumbs, you wanna put your hand up? Go ahead. It’s OK. Anybody else?
All of you with your hands in the air? Yeah, you people are fucking idiots.
Seriously. Put your hands down, you’re embarrassing yourselves and your stupidity is screwing up the country for the rest of us. Knock it off. People next to the people with their hands up? Smack your neighbor, hard, right in the ear. Keep doing it until you’ve managed to pound some goddamned sense into these simpletons.
Let me explain a couple of things that should be obvious to everybody.
First, it is not possible for the president, no matter what his party or ability, to manage every detail of every unit of every division of every department of the United States of America. It is just not possible. Expecting him to do so is idiotic and demonstrates a bizarrely over simplified understanding of reality. In fact, it is very likely that the United States has grown so large and so complicated that it is exceeding our ability to manage it in any useful fashion without some significant changes to the way we do things. But that’s a different essay.
The President doesn’t decide how many security guards an embassy has, he doesn’t review the watch schedule or the guard-post rotation or how many piss breaks the Marines are allotted in each shift.
Who does that?
Well, typically it’s the Ambassador, delegated to his chief of security. They’re the people on the scene. If the Ambassador thinks he needs a plus-up in the security force, he goes up the chain with it – to somewhere in the State Department. It’s a process. It takes time. And it’s just one of many such requests working their way through the system And unless military intervention is indicated the President is very unlikely to see anything about it – other than maybe, maybe, as a minor bullet point buried in the dozens, if not hundreds, of reports he sees every single day.
Addendum: something else I’d point out, increasing security isn’t free. It costs money. A lot of money. Every additional security measure costs money. Every additional State Department guard, Marine, or local rent a cop requires a renegotiation of the host country agreement, approval by the State Department, and a dozen other clearances – most for very good reasons. But mostly, it costs money, and that money is currently fixed, it’s tied up in a continuing resolution because our worthless shitty broken Congress has so far refused to do its goddamned job and pass a budget. Even if Obama had personally authorized an increase in security, Congress would have to approve both the funding and the change in the Status of Forces and Embassy treaties. You’ll note that neither party has mentioned this, in or out of the debate.
And security is only one of a thousand similar things that need attention, every single day.
Should somebody have done more to protect that embassy?
Well, yeah, obviously.
Should we have seen the threat coming?
Well, yeah, obviously, if only it was that easy.
Should the President have been briefed and made a command decision to bulk up security or withdraw the embassy staff?
Well, yeah, obviously, in a perfect world, of course he would have nothing to do but manage every detail personally.
In hindsight, sure, we should have done more.
Hindsight is like that – oh so blindingly obvious.
Which brings us to the second thing: military intelligence.
This is something I know a great deal about. I was a military intelligence specialist for more than twenty years and I worked in the Middle East and in and out of warzones all over the world. I was a force protection officer. I know more than a little about threat assessment – and how in hindsight it’s just so, so obvious, especially to commenters on Yahoo and the Wall Street Journal and from the political party that doesn’t happen to be in the White House when the bubble goes up.
Everybody is an expert.
Everybody could have done better.
Except, of course, they aren’t and they didn’t.
Any idiot can predict the past, it’s the future that’s difficult.
If we had pulled out, these same “experts” would have seized on it as evidence of cowardice on the White House’s part, and don’t bother to tell me they wouldn’t have. Ditto if we hadn’t gone into Libya in the first place. If we had put Marines on the ground, it would have been a waste of money, or an unauthorized invasion, or more heavy handed military action. Again, don’t bother to tell me otherwise, because that’s exactly what these same critics said. Go back and read the Fox News’ archives, you won’t have any trouble finding the criticism.
The simple unvarnished truth of the matter is that it’s goddamned difficult to predict the future.
It happens. I don’t want to sound cavalier about it, but it happens. We lose people. The world is a dangerous place. We in the intelligence community do everything we can to prevent it. If we’re successful, you never hear about it. You only see our failures. And it happens, those failures. The world is just too complicated, there’s just too many moving parts, too much information and too many threats and it’s goddamned difficult. And it happens. We lose people. It happened to Jimmy Carter in Iran. It happened to Ronald Reagan in Beirut. It happened to George H. W. Bush right in front of CIA headquarters. It happened to Bill Clinton a month after he took office in the first World Trade Center attack. It happened to George W. Bush on September 11th, 2001. And it will happen to whoever comes after Barack Obama. That’s how it is.
Could we have done more?
Sure, but I don’t think you’re really willing to do what it takes, because you won’t like the society you end up living in – and it will still happen.
I find it ironic that the folks who are perfectly willing to accept a theater full of dead kids as just the price you pay for the right to bear arms and thus Freeeeedom! are the very same people who don’t seem to think that our kind of foreign policy is something that can be executed without human casualties.
Of course, the argument today is that the White House lied about the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens, that the White House keeps changing its story and that Joe Biden and the State Department are advancing fundamentally different versions of the events.
Again, welcome to intelligence work.
Again, it’s complicated.
Again, It takes time to figure out what actually went down and when.
There are dozens of conflicting reports and the people who were there are dead. Hell, even in something as simple and common as a car accident, there are differing reports and differing interpretations and that’s the reason police investigators (and intelligence experts) hate eyewitnesses – because human beings are just about the most unreliable sources of information there is. Throw politics into the mix and you might as well not even bother.
In the event that killed Ambassador Stevens, there were multiple assaults going on, against multiple American interests, in multiple locations, all at the same time. There appeared to be a common triggering event. It’s human nature to string these things together. Later it turned out that those events were unrelated. But was several weeks of hard work on the Intel Community’s part before that became more than just a guess, before there was enough hard intelligence to prove it.
Again, I find it ironic that the people who reject climate change and evolution because they feel those things are “just theories,” are the very same people who were willing to immediately and wholeheartedly decide that the attack on our embassy was a terrorist event before there was any hard evidence whatsoever. As long as the event makes Obama look bad, well, we don’t need proof, right? Then again… well, you know, creationism. But I digress.
There was enormous pressure to get the word out. The same people who are condemning the White House now for initially reporting bad information seem to forget that they were the same people who were demanding immediate information during the attack, who condemned the White House for not speaking up sooner.
Look, you can’t have it both ways, if you want instant answers, most of those answers are going to be wrong.
If you want accurate information, you’re going to have to wait.
That’s just how it is.
And when it turns out that you’re wrong, you can either man up and correct yourself or you can stand pat on bad information – say like continuing to insist on the existence of yellow cake uranium purchases by a certain dictator that never happened or his involvement in 911 that never happened or his vast stores of Weapons of Mass Destruction that didn’t exist.
Again, you can’t have it both ways, either you want people in charge who are willing to admit error and provide correct information when it becomes available even if it contradicts previous information … or you want smoke blown up your ass. Make up your goddamned mind.
The problem today is that the Vice Presidential debate did more than just distract us from the real issues.
The problem is that the debates set us to arguing over things that we cannot change.
The problem is that the debates continue to set us against each other and widen a divide that already cripples America.
The problem is this: debates are a piss poor way to choose our leaders.
But just like people who cling to a religion that they’ve long outgrown, I suspect that we’ll continue this farce for a long, long time to come.
Today people are arguing over who “lost” the debate.
The answer to that is easy: we did.