Poverty of Ideas

The right has been claiming that the left is “out of ideas”. Partly this yields exasperation on the part of the right, when the left declaims the Iraq war strategy as misguided. For the last 3 decades the Middle East has been an increasingly annoying abscess spreading discord the world over. On Sept 2001 that discord came home to the US and US public opinion demanded we do something about it. After toppling the Taliban, it was felt that they were a symptom and the root of the problem lie in the Middle East.

This is where the poverty of ideas problem comes in. The anti-war left (and right) complain that the Iraq invasion was a mistake. But … they offer no alternative for an overarching pro-active solution to the problem. How to democratize the area? Where are the alternative suggestions which were ignored? Because if there are none, then the complaints against the war lose some of their force it seems.

Put this in a somewhat different light. Assume that the political situation in the Middle East is the problem. Assume that there is a mandate from the populus of the US demanding action. What other course of action would be preferrable? What other big Moonshot sized effort would be better tasked to restructure the Middle East political situation for the next century. The White House came up with one answer. The left, while complaining it was not the right answer, has no rejoinder at hand for an alternative. So, those of my readers on the left, point to or provide an alternative which might be better.

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  1. Why does it have to be a moonshot? Why can’t it be… I don’t know, reasonable? It’s not looking like there will be a stable democracy in Iraq, indeed it’s not looking like there will even BE an Iraq in a few years. The alternative to invading Iraq was to continue ensuring he had no nuclear weapons. One cannot bring democracy by force. The U.S. should encourage nations to become more free through diplomacy (i.e. political and economic pressure) not through force.

    It seems like this is a common theme with Republicans. Big, simplistic ideas which appeal to the unreflective on a gut level but don’t stand up to scrutiny. Problems with the Middle East? Invade Iraq! Problems with marriage? Ban the gays from marrying! Problem with social security? Privatize it! The economy’s going great? Tax cuts! The economy’s tanking? Tax cuts! AIDS? Abstinence only!

    For every complex problem, there’s an answer that simple, elegant, and dead wrong. And usually the Republicans find it.

  2. (BTW, I like your blog template. Nice change of pace from all the blogger ones.)

  3. Mark says:


    My suggestion that it had to be a significant effort (moonshot) is that at the time it was the political reality. As to the “stable Iraq” in a few years, that seems to depend on who you listen to. I have no clue what’s going on there, but there are good signs and bad signs it seems. Interpretations are up for grabs. You write, “One cannot bring democracy by force” as if it was axiomatic. Historically speaking I don’t think that holds water. How do you explain Japan post WWII? It took almost a decade for democratization to work in Japan did it not? But it seems to have taken quite well. How about India and the UK? Why so little patience here? Is it a sign of the age we live in where, instant gratification and all?

    My point was that in this case the Left had no alternatives.

    As to some of the other points, my personal take on SSM et al right now is that I’ve offered as a compromise that at least I’d accept which is if we might criminalize divorce I’d accept SSM. Here on this site, I’ve pushed for “morals legislation” wherin there is a penalty/pennance (fine, comm. service, short jail time) to be paid for those actions which society deems important moral decisions, i.e., divorce, abortion, euthanasia (and even possibly marriage).

    There is a branch of the conservative movement (of which alas it seems the President does not belong) which feels smaller goverment is good.

  4. You write, “One cannot bring democracy by force” as if it was axiomatic. Historically speaking I don’t think that holds water.

    Okay. One cannot bring democracy by force without paying far more (not just money, either) than we are willing to do in Iraq. Bush sold the war as short and cheap, remember.

    There is a branch of the conservative movement (of which alas it seems the President does not belong) which feels smaller goverment is good.

    I’m starting to miss them. Man have they been hoodwinked.

  5. Mark says:

    Bush sold the war as short and cheap (and it was). He did not sell the reconstruction, and has repeatedly warned that the WoT is going to take a long hard struggle.

    And, I’ll agree many (including me) are missing the small government conservatives in the beltway. Alas, the alternative is not to go with the party touting big government up front. There your insured taxes and spending will increase even faster.

  6. Chutzpah Roundup…

    Brief overview of who’s showing some balls on the web (or pointing out others who are).

    Sirhan Sirhan, Robert Kennedy’s assassin, is denied parole. He claims that Mr. Kennedy would not have wanted him to remain in prison. Jim Lindgren responds: “…

  7. […] I had written earlier that the Democrats had offered no alternatives on the War in Iraq at the time, and although I got a trackback … neither did I get any alternative suggestions. […]

  8. jpe says:

    My point was that in this case the Left had no alternatives.

    JA’s point is that this isn’t the kind of problem that needs a huge, radical solution. Rather, we just keep aggressively pursuing al-Q through international cooperation and aggressive prosecution (in both senses, the legal and that which means forceful action).

    By asking for a radical solution, you’ve already rigged the game to favor your answer.

  9. Mark says:

    My question admittedly “riggs” the game, but was based on an assumption that the political tenor of the American populus at the time begged for a non-passive response (this view might be upheld by the 2004 election result). The Democratic response at the time, e.g., Kerry, held that the WoT was primarily a “law-enforcement” task. The response was that this a 9/10 misconception. That is to say that this assumption is not wild out of the blue and crazy, but fairly reasonable.

    That being the case, that is, if the assumption that a large positive response implies Iraq is the best choice strategy at that point, then … why argue about the choice of Iraq as so many do? One might question the wisdom of a large response, but that is less often the argument used than one might expect.