Jan 26

(To read the rest of "On Violence’s Most Thought-Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2016: Trump, Brexit and Bears, Oh My!", please click here.)

The definition of insanity is mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior. It’s not, as far too many people repeat (and as Einstein almost certainly never said) doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. (That’s why you shouldn’t rely on bumper stickers for legal or mental health advice.)

And frankly, is the opposite a better definition of insanity? Couldn’t insanity be “when things are going great, deciding to do something different”. Like say, electing an unqualified failed businessman disrupt international institutions during a time of peace?

Yesterday, I wrote that, contrary to the conventional narrative, democracy was not under threat. Well, to be fair, it is always under threat. Autocrats or dictators or military juntas will always try to seize power. It has been that way since Athens in antiquity. Yet the idea of democracy is NOT under threat. Only the most fringe-y of fringe elements in America and Europe (and the government of China) would honestly make that argument.

But I will make the argument that the “liberal world order”--what I call “liberalism in foreign relations or IR”--is under threat. Others have made this argument, but it is important enough to say again. To prevent future global disasters--like World War II--and to reinforce human rights--in opposition to the Soviet Union--and to spearhead the greatest improvement in quality of life in history, the United States and Europe created a liberal international system, featuring:

- The spread of democracy as the ideal form of government

- The spread of market capitalism as the ideal economic system

- The spread of free trade between states

- The rise of international institutions to prevent war and support free trade

- The spread of human rights as a legal and moral norm

The last 70 years have been the most successful in human history and we’re about to screw it all up.

The liberal world order that defeated the Soviet Union has led to the spread of democracy and free trade around the globe. Yet the democratic underpinnings of the order have now sown its own demise. Despite decades of peace and prosperity in Europe, Britain voted to leave one of the biggest international organizations, the EU, which could affect both defense and free trade. Donald Trump is notably hostile to free trade deals and alliances, like NATO. President Trump has also expressed a disdain for democracies and an admiration for strongmen leaders. Other European countries appear poised to also leave or change their relationship with the EU, and Donald Trump is goading nations into making this disastrous choice.

This threatens all that we have built.

Why is this so dangerous? Yesterday, I referenced Kenneth Waltz' Man the State and War, one of the foundational texts of international relations theory. In it, Waltz describes three “images” to discuss the causes of war. Roughly, they are people (as in individuals), states (as in the type of governments) and the international system (how the states interact with one another). Yesterday, covered the second image, the type of states; in general, the more democracies we have, the less wars are fought.

(We never discussed the first image, the “personal level” or individual leaders. If Al Gore had become President, I doubt America goes to war in Iraq. Since Trump is President instead of Hillary Clinton, we do think war is more likely. We will have an entire series on Trump related to his foreign policy.)

But Waltz argues that the third image is really the most important. The conduct of states towards one another--the concert of states--can either make a beautiful symphony (peace!) or a ruinous cacophony (war). And while realists can argue against this, the run of the liberal world order for the last 70+ years has been the most successful eras at averting international crisis and interstate war in human history.

The previous system hit its high point after the Thirty Years War. By high point, I mean the most number of wars for the most sustained period of time. The “balance of power” so treasured by realists that was created after the Thirty Years War culminated in the second Thirty Years War between WWI and WWII (and too many wars to count in the interim), with regular continental wars (Napoleonic, Seven Years, Franco-Prussian, Spanish Wars of Succession, and more). Yeah, I’m not a realist but even realists have to admit that the global hegemony of the liberal world order during the Cold War has been more successful than their system.

The liberal world order is self-reinforcing: more democracies leads to more free trade which leads to more international organizations to manage it, all of which discourages war, which promotes more free trade, which makes more democracies and makes war less likely and so on. Yet the system can go in reverse as wars cause dictatorships in their aftermath that discourages free trade which removes the need for international institutions and so on.

What worries me about the liberal world order isn’t just the rebukes in the form of Brexit votes, Donald Trump’s election, or far right candidates winning elections across the Western world: it is what is to come. I can see a world where we have two great autocracies--Russia and China--buttressed by a democratically elected leader who allies with them, Donald Trump. I worry that if he erodes the international institutions and global trade system that have undergirded the system, it could take decades to bring them back.

But the biggest worry is war. The best way to relearn our deep appreciation of the liberal world order is in the ashes of war. As the rubble clears from a disastrous inter-state war between first world powers, we will all know why we worked so hard to prevent it.

Let’s not let it come to that.

Jan 23

(To read the rest of our posts in"On Violence’s Most Thought-Provoking Foreign Affairs Event of 2015: Trump, Brexit and Bears, Oh My!", check out the articles below...

- This is NOT the End of the End of History

- Yes, Liberalism (as an International System) Is in Decline

- Trade Works. People Like Trade. Goodbye Trade: The Real Problem with Abandoning the TPP

- Five Quick Takes on Brexit, Trump and the Rise of Populism

- Living in an Invisible Golden Age

- How Politics Created Our Invisible Golden Age)

 

So, you may have noticed that in the last year or so, we haven’t been blogging as much. The main reason is time. Michael C and I both work full time, and getting the extra energy to write can be difficult. We also work on other outside writing projects (including something new; coming soon!) and, well, until we’re writing full time, blogging consistently wasn’t a priority.

In light of the election on November 8th, 2016, this feels like a mistake.

There’s another factor to this blogging reticence, a feeling we’ve had for some time now: that we’re shouting into an empty room. Actually, the room isn’t empty; it’s packed with people and voices. But ours has been drowned out or ignored. Not by everyone, but by a fair number.

With the hindsight of this monumental election, this failure to get noticed takes on a higher importance. Our core theses on the blog haven’t been repudiated; they’ve been confirmed. We do believe we have an important message that directly repudiates Donald Trump’s world view. We believe that unless more people understand this message, our politicians will keep making poor decisions that will make the lives of us all worse.

What’s the main point we’ve been making that has gotten almost no traction in the wider world at large?

Thanks to the (classically) liberal world order--which includes the spread of democracy, the rise of free trade and the growth of international institutions--the world is as safe as it has ever been, but the media and politicians largely reject this view, choosing to portray the world as dangerous, and this leads voters to vote in ways that will make the world more dangerous.

This week and next, as we ponder the three major events of 2016--first, the Brexit vote, second, Donald Trump’s rise and win, and third, Russian influence to stop the spread of democracy--we will put these events in context of that bolded message above.

And we have other thoughts that run counter to the traditional narratives and explanations offered by most pundits. We’ll write about how democracy has still won the battle of ideas, how truly, truly safe and great a time it is to be alive, how classical liberalism (both international) is under threat, some counter-intuitive thoughts on trade deals, and how the media plays a role in all of this (maybe the most important role).

Like we said, our failure to be writing regularly about foreign policy over the last year was a mistake. And it’s not one we wish to repeat. After we finish “The Most Thought-Provoking Event of 2016”, we’re moving right onto how we plan to cover, analyze and oppose the Donald Trump administration.

We’ve got a busy next four years. Let’s get going.

Nov 08

The other day, I was thinking about a Trump presidency. Hillary Clinton had been sliding in the FiveThirtyEight forecast for a days, and it seemed more possible than ever that the unthinkable (electing a President Trump) was possible.

As I pondered a Trump presidency, for a moment I felt genuine fear. It seemed totally real that, under Donald Trump, a nuclear war is possible. For the first time in my lifetime, I wouldn’t trust the President with nuclear weapons.

That’s genuinely terrifying.

As we were thinking about what we should write for the election, I contemplated a post along the lines of “why veterans shouldn’t support Trump” or “the veteran viewpoint against Trump” but I decided not to. I mean, he has Representative Tom Cotton backing him, and he’s a veteran. Should we really tally up all the veterans to see who they support and choose our president that way?

Of course not. It’s like how Trump counts 88 flag officers (admirals and generals) backing him and Hillary counts at least 95. Or how Trump trots out General Michael Flynn and Hillary trots out General John Allen. It’s a wash.

Really what matters to veterans and soldiers is the same thing that matters to Americans: who will start unnecessary wars that put the lives of soldier and Americans at risk? We’ve written a lot about why you shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump. We’ve mentioned all the facts he gets wrong, all the moral codes he breaks and all the democratic norms he ignored, but we mostly ignored the larger philosophy of the two camp’s foreign policies. When you dig into the philosophies, you understand why you should vote for Hillary and why you shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump.

Hillary Clinton is a foreign policy liberal. Liberalism in international relations (distinct from being a “liberal” or “progressive” in politics) is the deeply held belief of On Violence, the operating philosophy of this blog. This liberalism is about supporting democracies, human rights, free trade, and international institutions to decrease the frequency of war and increase the prosperity of everyone. Clinton largely supports liberalism (it’s why she advocated going into Libya and Syria). Her stance against the Trans-Pacific Partnership notwithstanding, if On V had a gripe with her, it is that she (like most of establishment foreign policy types) worries too much about the short term and not the long term.

Donald Trump has rejected every pillar of liberalism: supporting democracies (he loves strong men or dictators), human rights (he supports torture and mass murder), free trade (he will erect trade barriers) and international institutions (his attacks on NATO and the UN). But it goes further than his rejection of liberalism: Trump rejects nearly every other major foreign policy philosophy as well.

Take realism. While it seems like Trump fits in as a realist with his focus on US interests and avoiding foreign entanglements, he can’t seem to find a realist who supports his beliefs. One of the biggest names in realist thinking--Stephen Walt--refuses to endorse Trump. (My gut is that John Mearsheimer does as well.) There are also plenty of realist thinkers on this list of 122 international relations Republicans who refuse to endorse Trump, and it was hosted on a realist website. Realists usually understand that Trump is close to realism, but know that in practice Trump’s brand of diplomacy, his economically disastrous trade ideas, and Trump’s ability to overestimate and underestimate US power (at the same time) violate realism in practice.

Any other philosophies are out too. Isolationism? Donald Trump has said he would intervene to stop ISIS in Syria and would do so with the help of Vladimir Putin. Neo-conservatism? Again, Trump doesn’t believe in remaking the Middle East with democracies, so probably not. Constructivism nee idealism? Donald Trump doesn’t have time to understand what this viewpoint even means.

So what is Donald Trumps foreign policy ideology? Selfishness bordering on narcissism. He’s unconstrained by any morals or ethics (advocating torture) while he only cares about winning, for himself. He admires other rich or powerful individuals, but only because he envies them. He’s not rational enough to be a realist so he’s just an unconstrained egotist.

And that’s where the danger from the beginning of this article comes from. Donald Trump is a complete liability if he were to take over the office of the President. Since he has no guiding principles in foreign policy, he could do anything, which makes him a complete liability with nuclear weapons and our military.

Nov 07

When we decided to write up our posts on this election, Michael C asked who these articles were for. Who did we want to convince? Which was a good question, since Eric C initially wrote up a series of “devastating” posts endlessly mocking Trump. But what good does that do, except further reinforce what Hillary partisans already believe?

Yesterday, we made the case for Clinton because Donald Trump is manifestly unfit to President. But the worst thing he has done is subvert democratic norms in America. He has challenged the legitimacy of the Constitution, and if he were elected, has a chance to permanently harm America.

If you’re a moderate or liberal who is still considering voting for a third party candidate, we’d politely ask you to first consider the damage that could be done to our democracy by helping elect Trump.

First, Donald Trump spent the primary campaign encouraging his supporters to use violence against their political enemies. I know, this feels like it happened ages ago, but it is easy to forget that, in his early speeches, Donald Trump would pine for the days when people could get beat up at rallies. And then his supporters would punch people at rallies. Since his official nomination, Trump has continued with calls for violence. Zack Beauchamp details the possibility of violence, especially among armed militiamen, on election day. Perhaps this doesn’t need to be said, but advocating armed revolution to stop a legitimate election should terrify everyone in America.

Second, Donald Trump has challenged American’s right to vote. Going hand in hand with Donald Trump’s threats for violence are his calls for his supporters to “monitor” polling places, using racist dog whistles to refer to minority communities. The Republican party, as a whole, has limited voter’s access to the polls in nearly a dozen states. The threat is two-fold. It erodes faith in our electoral system while challenging one of the most basic tenets of the constitution: the right to vote.

Third, Donald Trump refused to release his tax returns. True, there’s nothing unconstitutional about this. But every major party candidate has released their tax returns since the 1970s. His refusal to do so limits the public’s knowledge about him and threatens to destroy this practice entirely, limiting the knowledge future voters will have about Presidential candidates.

Fourth, Donald Trump has repeatedly promised to jail his political rival. While the entire country, rightfully, excoriated Trump over the leaked Access Hollywood tape, more concerning to On Violence was Donald Trump’s promise to put Clinton in jail during the second Democratic debate. This is what happens in third world countries. This is not how democracies work.

Fifth, Donald Trump refuses to concede the election if he loses and claims the election is rigged. Or to put it another way, he’s undermining faith in America’s electoral process. The foundation of our democracy is the right to fair and just elections to establish the will of the people. Donald Trump, by refusing to say he’ll accept the results, subverts the entire system by which this country exists.

Why should voters support Clinton? Because Donald Trump represents a threat to our democracy. One could argue that he isn’t that big of a threat, since he probably won’t win, though poll numbers appear to be tightening.  

But if even a small chance of victory risks ending the country, then it is one we have to avoid.

Because make no mistake: Donald Trump is a threat to the future of the country.

Nov 01

Somewhere, a long time ago, we decided we weren’t ever going to do a “Sorry we haven’t posted in awhile” post, because, well, it’s trite. (Someone even made an entire blog aggregating blog posts where people did that.) But the good news is we’re working on a huge new project, dropping later this year. (Keep your fingers crossed pre-Christmas for the holiday drive and travelling.)

That said, did you really think On V would let an election that challenges democratic norms and features one of the least informed politicians that’s ever ran for President without commenting on it? (We commented on the primaries here.) But before we get to the top of the ticket race, let’s look at where the two major American parties stand internationally.

Everytime we write about elections, we have to make the point that foreign policy--unlike domestic policy--is usually non-partisan. As we wrote before the 2012 election, both sides tend to use foreign policy as an easy way to score cheap political points:

“Foreign policy, unlike domestic issues, is a mostly non-partisan affair. More than that, the parties can’t agree on what they disagree on. Do liberals or libertarians oppose Guantanamo? Ron Paul, Pat Buchanan and Dennis Kucinich all support American isolationism. Democrats are supposed to be anti-war, but their presidents started World War II, the Korean War, the Bay of Pigs disaster and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Vietnam War, Kosovo and intervened militarily in Libya.

Politically, both sides of the aisle use foreign policy victories or mistakes to score cheap political points. Conservatives opposed Clinton heading into Kosovo, supported the war in Iraq, and then half-opposed intervening in Libya, depending on what the President did. Liberals protested the invasion of Iraq, then changed the subject when anyone asked them about Libya; they also hated Bush’s drone strikes in Afghanistan, and have ignored them under Obama’s watch.”

Taken at face value, 21st century foreign policy seemed pretty clear: Bush, embracing a neo-conservative foreign policy, started a series of disastrous foreign military engagements designed to reshape the Middle East. Liberals mostly opposed what Bush did, but Obama continued some of the same policy mistakes, like drone strikes. (Enough to get Conor Friedersdorf, a thinker we really respect, to pull his endorsement in 2012.)

Alas, this is no longer the case. As we’ve been writing about all year, Republicans--frightened by ISIS’s terror attacks, then catalyzed by Donald Trump’s popularity--advocate a foreign policy that is dangerously illiberal, factually wrong and morally bankrupt.

Here are some examples, culled from our posts on the Republican primaries, starting with the factually dubious claims:

America is safer than it has ever been. Republicans, throughout the entire primary, have made an effort to make Americans scared. Terrified. (Mostly of people from other countries or minorities). As the Trump campaign fumbles its way through early October, their only talking point is that the murder rate went up last year. (It did. It’s also lower than it was forty years ago.)

- Don’t Worry about EMPs, WMDs or ISIS: Sorry, Republicans The World is Getting Safer

ISIS isn’t nearly the threat Republicans want you to think it is. Not just that, but all of the available evidence points to a decline in ISIS’s membership, territory, revenue and military capability. Sure, ISIS will launch future terror attacks, but they won’t “take over” America. Ever.

- ISIS, You Ain’t No Existential Threat, Bruv

The U.S. military isn’t crumbling. Despite exaggerations to the contrary, the American military remains the largest fighting force in the world. Actually, we’d argue--and have been arguing--that the American military is too big. The money America spends on defense could be better spent elsewhere, especially if that were coupled with smart improvements to our wasteful military contracting system and ]focused less on building weapons that have no relevance to the wars we’re actually fighting abroad. Just a few weeks back, the U.S. Army admitted it had a 6 trillion dollar accounting error.

- Actually, the American Military is Y-uuuuge

Torture. And now we move from factually wrong assertions to morally reprehensible statements. In short, the Republican party endorses torture, which violates everything our nation stands for.

- Torture. Still Wrong.

Killing Civilians and Loosening the Rules of Engagement. Look, the Rules of Engagement (ROE) are a complicated issue. No one is denying that. But it is one thing to debate the merits of our current ROE and another to actively encourage killing civilians. The latter isn’t just wrong practically, it is wrong morally. (And Republicans routinely exaggerate and misrepresent the military’s ROE.)

- Let's Kill Women and Children: The Republicans on War Crimes

- What We Talk About When We Talk About Loosening ROE

Supporting Dictators. Few things irk Michael C more than this. And to be fair, Democrats are far too cozy with far too many dictators. (Looking at you, Saudi Arabia!) That said, Republicans have taken it to another level with campaign, praising dictators no one should support.

- I Hate Dictators and Some Republicans Don't

Using hate speech. For Eric C, in light of every other ugly thing that has been said this election cycle, the tearing down of civility is the worst. The Republican use of hate speech against Islamic people represents this. The only upside is that Kzahir Khan made an eloquent defense of America’s multi-cultural identity and, more importantly, Democrats have embraced it.

- Hate Speech: We're Still Against It  

When we started writing this post, Michael C asked Eric C who it was meant for. The point is this: on down ballot races, on foreign policy grounds, we don’t recommend voting for Republicans. This may (and hopefully will) change in the future. But there is an ugly, anti-democratic, illiberal bent to Republican foreign policy right now (illustrated by the numerous conservative foreign policy experts who have come out against Donald Trump). Don’t let this continue to expand.

Apr 27

(To read the rest of our coverage on foreign policy, the military and the presidential primaries, please click here.)

In our coverage of the Republican presidential candidates, we’ve been revisiting far too many topics and issues that should be settled by now, like torture, ROE, the size of the military, and so on and so on. Aside from admitting The Iraq War was a mistake, it seems the country hasn’t gained ground on becoming more tolerant (or intelligent) on foreign policy.

This list would include hate speech.

In one of my favorite series for the blog, we “Got Orwellian” on the use of hate speech towards Islamic people generally. To summarize our series:

“Muslims (even the so called “islamofascists”) aren’t animals. They aren’t less than human. They aren’t barbarians, primitives or savages. They’re people. We may hate them and what they do. They’re still human.

“We’ve been writing about language and hate speech for these last few months not because we’re grammar and usage mavens (though I am). We’re writing about language and war because words matter especially when those words sustain conflicts instead of ending them. Words actively change points of view and perceptions. Words actively shape worldviews. Language affects whether the American military ever tries to adopt population-centric counterinsurgency, or whether it decides that the enemy is an sub-human that must (and can only) be killed.”

Hate speech dehumanizes your enemy, turning your opponent into an other that exists outside of “civilized” society. Thus they become “savages”, “barbarians” or “primitive”. Trump, wanting to make the dehumanization clear, just refers to the terrorists and ISIS, as “animals”. Terrorists may commit acts of evil, but they’re still human.

Like torture, hate speech is both morally wrong and ineffective. It alienates many young Muslim men, aiding terrorists groups that rely on recruiting alienated young Muslim men to bolster their ranks. In broader terms, hate speech/racism limits America, Europe and the world’s ability to stop radical terrorists. Far too many people never bother to understand al Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and other groups because they don’t even consider them human. And if you can’t accurately diagnose the disease, you can’t treat it properly.

This is a huge tactical mistake in the war on terror. But it doesn’t really matter, because as we wrote before:

“But I hate writing about tactics. Just like the debate about torture, it doesn’t matter if hate speech is ineffective; morally, it’s wrong. That’s all that matters.”

Apr 25

(To read the rest of our coverage on foreign policy, the military and the presidential primaries, please click here.)

When we started preparing our series on the Republican primaries, I was excited to dust off an idea I had about a particularly destructive Secretary of State, inspired by this excellent Zack Beauchamp piece. It would perfectly fit in a season of Republican primaries that have seen legitimate presidential candidates call for war crimes and torture.

Then the Democrats beat me to it.

At the seventh Republican debate, responding to charges about who is advising his foreign policy, Bernie Sanders criticized Hillary Clinton’s support of Henry Kissinger. This sparked a round of internet commentary reviewing the legacy of America’s favorite international relations realist.

My (Michael C) thoughts on Henry Kissinger are too long to fit into our presidential election series, because you can’t really discuss Kissinger without discussing his philosophy on international relations. And I don’t just mean realism as a foreign policy, but his philosophy on when you can use violence to help your country at the expense of others. Or put another way, when to use violence on foreigners to help your fellow citizens.

Suffice it to say, On Violence thinks the good of Henry Kissinger (SALT treaties with Russia; rapprochement with China) is outweighed by the bad (the support of war crimes and genocide).

The current candidates for President disagree with me, except for (arguably) Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton kicked off this whole brouhaha by praising Kissinger in a debate and in one of her books. (She defended this decision by saying she listens to a wide range of opinions, and values Kissinger’s experience with and knowledge of China.)

Republicans also crave his approval, without feeling the need to justify it. Politico wrote a whole article on it:

“You’re a Republican thinking of running for president. It’s a dangerous world, and your foreign policy credentials are a little thin. Time to see Henry Kissinger. Scott Walker did it. So did Marco Rubio and Chris Christie. Rick Perry paid a visit in September — he even tweeted a photo to prove it. Rubio ‘met with Kissinger a couple of times in the past, and always appreciates his insights’”

Ted Cruz posted a picture of himself on Facebook with Henry Kissinger saying he is, “honored to share a few moments with Dr. Kissinger.”

Zack Beauchamp (again, the inspiration for a series of posts I will write on the national interest versus morality) had the best summary of Kissinger’s positions and actions that would probably brand him a war criminal if charges were brought by the International Criminal Court. For the longer take, go to Christopher Hitchen’s foundational text, the aptly named, The Trial of Henry Kissinger. By their count, Kissinger could be charged with supporting mass murder in Pakistan, Argentina, Cambodia, East Timor and many African nations. Despite this, somehow Kissinger is not a pariah, but a fixture of the international relations world in Washington.

We just can’t condone that level of murder and support for dictatorships, and therefore don’t condone candidates who ignore that record.

Apr 12

(To read the rest of our coverage on foreign policy, the military and the presidential primaries, please click here.)

Back in May of 2015, Republicans decided the Iraq War was a mistake.

Wha?

It started when Jeb Bush told Megyn Kelly that he would have invaded Iraq even, “knowing what we know now”. It was a bad answer, or as Seth Meyers framed it on his late night show, “I have to say, Jeb, you’re making a real Iraq out of this. And just so you know, Iraq is slang for mess, because that’s what everyone agrees it was.”

Shockingly, other Republicans agreed with Seth Meyers. Zack Beauchamp tallied up the responses for Vox: Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie and John Kasich all said that, if Iraq didn’t have WMDs, they would NOT have invaded Iraq. Slate added Rick Santorum and Carly Fiorina to the list of Republicans who said, knowing what we know now about WMDs, they wouldn’t have invaded. Eventually, even Jeb Bush reversed himself.

Donald Trump perhaps said it best in the ninth debate:

“Obviously, the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake. All right?...The war in Iraq, we spent $2 trillion, thousands of lives, we don't even have it. Iran has taken over Iraq with the second-largest oil reserves in the world. Obviously, it was a mistake.”

On the one hand, “hurray” for the country finally deciding that the Iraq war was a mess. But it also shows that the media still struggles to properly discuss war and American foreign policy. Some thoughts...

1. The Iraq War is no longer debatable. That’s insanely awesome.

The Iraq War--at least America’s justification for that war--is nearing “no-longer-debatable” territory. It was a failure. No serious thinker, pundit or politician questions the non-existence of WMDs. Despite the polling numbers below, Republican presidential candidates know they can’t come out in favor of the war in Iraq or challenge the non-existence of WMDs without the majority of Americans not taking them seriously.

In the context of the truly objectionable positions many Republicans have taken on foreign policy, at least we’ve made progress, as a country, on this issue. And frankly, I’m stunned. Delighted, but stunned.

2. Rank and file Republicans--in general--still don’t believe this.

In late 2014, we wrote up one of my personal favorite posts, “Weapons of Mass Dis-information: 5 Different Books By or About Navy SEALs That Repeat the Same Misinformation”. As we wrote then, according to a YouGov poll, only 42% of Americans think Iraq didn’t have WMDs. 25% have no idea. More importantly, 62% of Republicans believe Saddam Hussein did.

Perhaps that 2012 poll is too old for you. Here’s one from early 2015: half of Republicans think Iraq had WMDs. For Republican presidential candidates to come out against the existence of WMDs, that’s both a good thing and totally mind-blowing. I’d have thought, like Obama’s “birth certificate”, they would have addressed this issue with code words. But they didn’t. That’s progress.

3. This is still the wrong question to ask.

I got so caught up with Republicans admitting that Iraq didn’t have WMDs that I completely missed the silliness of this question and the ensuing media spat. On its face, the question is misleading, or as Michael C put it, it’s like asking someone “Why do you beat your wife?”

We knew then that Iraq didn’t have WMDs, as James Fallows, Greg Sergeant, Jonathan Chait, Paul Krugman, and Peter Beinart pointed out. By framing the question as, “knowing what we know now” pretends that we didn’t “know what we knew” then. It absolves the Bush administration for cooking the intelligence books and misleading the American public. Reporters should ask, “How would you ensure you get accurate intelligence?”

4. What happened to the “Saddam was a bad guy” argument?

Marco Rubio, defending his position, pointed out that even George W. Bush wouldn’t have invaded Iraq. Except that’s not really true, at least not according to Bush’s autobiography, Decision Points (H/T to the Washington Post fact checker). As the justifications for war in Iraq fell away--there were no links to al Qaeda; we didn’t find any WMDs; the country didn’t become a democracy--George W. Bush, other administration officials, and their defenders still had one last justification: Saddam Hussein was a bad guy.

Here’s what Bush wrote in his memoir:

“But inaction would have had consequences, too. Imagine what the world would look like today with Saddam Hussein still ruling Iraq. He would still be threatening his neighbors, sponsoring terror and piling bodies into mass graves.”

The better question for today is, would a Saddam Hussein regime be better than ISIS?

I should be generous: Bush’s defenders didn’t really have any arguments left after all the other ones fell away. The irony of the Saddam was a bad guy argument is what has taken Saddam’s place: a region mired in civil war and not one but two destabilized regimes, fostering Islamic extremists and terrorism. Oh, and tons of mass graves.

5. What about the veterans?

Jeb Bush had the strangest dodge of all, trying to avoid answering anything about Iraq’s non-existent WMDs. He brought up the real victims of the debate: soldiers and veterans (with their invincibly strong approval ratings).

“I admired the men and women -- mostly men -- that made the ultimate sacrifice. So, going back in time and talking about hypotheticals -- what would have happened what could have happened, I think, does a disservice for them."

So because soldiers died in a war, we can’t discuss the decisions that led to them dying in that war? We can’t analyze a bad decision to prevent future bad decisions?

Nothing in this whole debate is more illogical than that.