April 14, 2005

Column 2005-4-14 Commentary

First of all, I wish to allay any fears you may have had that Brooks's Sunday column portended a three-Brooks-column week. In fact, the Times was simply reorganizing its columnists to make room for the addition of one John Tierney. On the basis of exactly one column, I can say that Tierney, while not too bright, isn't quite the moron that Brooks is, so don't expect a companion anti-John Tierney blog to pop up any time soon, unless someone else is willing to write it. Anyway, Tierney is completely unknown outside the Times, while the sad truth is that there are people out there who think that Brooks has important and interesting insights into modern American culture.

Hopefully, this column will help these people realize the awful mistake they are making. First of all, it's obvious that Brooks wrote it in about fifteen minutes. The fact that there are no typos or grammatical howlers proves only that the Times has enough self-respect left to edit for spelling and grammar. What other conclusion can one come to, given that Brooks put almost no effort into writing this column? Supposedly, Brooks is defending Bolton, but he spends exactly two sentences on this defense, saying that "it is ridiculous to say [Bolton] doesn't believe in the United Nations." Apparently, this is a "canard spread by journalists who haven't bothered to read his stuff and by crafty politicians who aren't willing to say what the Bolton debate is really about." Well, for one thing, the Bolton debate is about more than simply whether or not he believes in the United Nations, but even if we let Brooks simplify it down to this one point, not one shred of evidence is presented to suggest that Bolton believes in the U.N. After all, mounting an effective defence of Bolton would require a lot of work, especially as it's not really possible. Instead, Brooks summons up some strawmen who are attempting to create a world government by pushing "creeping institutions like the International Criminal Court." And he then proceeds to argue against them by unleashing his latent black helicopter fantasies. Brooks generally doesn't strike you as the type of lunatic who goes out to Idaho to form a militia to defend against the coming U.N. invasion and shows you the locations of the concentration camps for U.S. citizens which he has deduced by decoding the backs of cereal boxes, but apparently all conservatives have a strain of this kind of thinking running through them, and rather than doing any actual work on this column, Brooks simply unleashes his paranoia. It's not that his arguments are usually much more coherent than this, but usually you feel that he actually put some thought into them. Maybe he just forgot that his column is now on Thursday and had to put something together at the last minute.

For instance, there's the case of Bolton. Apparently, it's nonsense to say that Bolton doesn't believe in the U.N. I wonder how Brooks explains this statement, then? “It is a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so—because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States.” Or how about this one: "The Secretariat building in New York has 38 stories. If it lost ten stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." Sure seems like Bolton doesn't really believe in the U.N. all that much. Or how about this: "If I were redoing the security council today, I'd have one permanent member because that's the real reflection of the distribution of power in the world." Brooks began his career with Jesse Helms, another notable U.N.-basher, so this is hardly surprising. But it is hardly the only reason why Bolton's nomination has garnered so much opposition. For instance, Bolton says that he opposes negotiations with rogue states: "I don't do carrots." In fact, he very nearly completely undermined the opening of the six-party talks with North Korea by giving an inflammatory, though true, speech that was not approved by the State Department or the State Department's chief North Korean envoy, Jack Pritchard. The North Koreans responded with a statement in which Bolton was referred to as "scum", and Pritchard was treated to a tirade by the North Korean envoys. Pritchard responded by reiterating that only the President and the Secretary of State could make U.S. policy, which salvaged the talks, but when Bolton found out that Pritchard had not defended him, he was infuriated and pressed for Pritchard to be fired. It should be mentioned that his was only part of a pattern of Bolton undermining American policy towards North Korea. Less than a month later, Pritchard stepped down, only days before the talks were set to begin. It could be a coincidence, but Bolton was undoubtedly close to the President: he worked for Bush and Cheney in the 2000 campaign, and was a big enough player to be sent to Miami-Dade County to stop the counting of ballots. And Bolton has a history of attacking people who opposed him: in 2002, when the chief bioweapons analyst for the State Departent prevented him from claiming in a speech that Cuba had a bioweapons program because the evidence was too shaky Bolton attempted to have the analyst fired. Unsurprisingly, Bolton also has a history of pushing shaky intelligence: he was one of the main forces behind the claim that Iraq was attempting to obtain uranium from Niger. Furthermore, Bolton has been described an "anti-diplomat" and as a "kiss-up, kick-down" person by former State Department officials. The one good thing that can be said for Bolton is that he's consistent: sadly, he's consistently crazy.

Of course, Brooks doesn't even bother trying to address the above body of evidence. Instead, he invents some people who, frustrated by the difficulties of imposing an immediate world government, have decided to go at piece by piece by, shockingly, trying to impose a few basic rules on the world. These crazy people believe that "
a world of separate nations, living by the law of the jungle, will inevitably be a violent world." In order to avoid this situation, they champion creeping institutions like the ICC, which is so dangerous to sovereignty that its charter was copied wholesale to provide the basis of the Iraq Special Tribunal that will try Saddam. First of all, it seems pretty obvious that a world of separate nations living by the law of the jungle will indeed be pretty violent. A cursory glance at history should confirm this. What people are actually saying is that the community of nations is much like a community of ordinary people: it needs rules to keep it in order. Brooks believes this too, he just thinks that there should be only one rule: you do what the U.S. tells you, or we overthrow your government in the name of freedom. Brooks and all the neocons who think that the U.S. needs to project its power in the name of democracy are firm believers in "global governance", they just feel that the U.S. needs to provide governance to the globe rather than having the governance be provided by some wimpy consensus. Also, it should be noted that exactly nobody treats General Assembly resolutions as an emerging body of interational law. Hardly anybody even knows what the General Assembly does, since it's entirely meaningless. If Brooks had said Security Council resolutions, he might have a point, but that's what happens when you dash off your columns in a quarter of an hour. Anyway, since all Security Council resolutions have the U.S. imprimatur, it's unclear why Brooks would oppose them.

Having established his global government-pushing straw men, Brooks proceeds to list five reasons why Americans will never accept global government. The first one is reasonable, though Brooks presents it strangely: he says that Americans will never accept global government because it is undemocratic. This suggests that global government is inherently undemocratic, an obviously ridiculous notion. What he really means is that "
there is no global democracy, no sense of common peoplehood and trust." This is completely true and is the main reason why nobody is pushing for a global government. After making this fairly reasonable statement, Brooks lets his fears of black helicopters take over and devotes the rest of the column to stupidity and outright falsehoods. His second reason why Americans will never accept a global government falls in the former category: he asserts that it invariably involves corruption because of a "lack of democratic accountability." This is exactly backwards, of course: the corruption occurs, at least in part, because the U.N., not being a government, has no accountability at all. Were the U.N. to become an actual government, democratic accountability would be introduced and corruption would be reduced, though, of course, not eliminated, as a brief inspection of Tom DeLay's record would reveal.

His third reason is an outright lie: "we love our Constitution and will never grant any other law supremacy over it." Brooks may not realize it, but there are already international institutions in place that impose international laws that take supremacy over the constitution. Those institutions are the WTO and NAFTA, and I'm sure that Brooks strongly supported U.S. entry into both of them. Instances of NAFTA or the WTO overruling U.S. laws are extremely numerous, but apparently David Brooks hasn't heard of any of them. Of course, that's one of the problems with writing your columns in 15 minutes: it cuts down on your research time, leaving you unable to establish whether or not your assertions are actually backed up by any facts. On the other hand, it may be that Brooks doesn't mind if laws establishing labor or environmental methods are overruled at the behest of business groups, even if it comes via an extra-Constitutional mechanism such as the WTO. Also, it should be noted that the authority granted to the Internation Criminal Court is hardly sloppy. And Europhobic Brooks can't resist the temptation to get in a dig at Europeans for allowing "transnational organizations to overrule [their] own laws, regulations and precedents." Perhaps Brooks simply hasn't heard of the European Parliament or the European Constitution, which are designed to include the "laws, regulations, and precedents" of the member states, standardize them, and add democratic accountability to the whole structure?

Next, Brooks makes the claim that "these mushy international organizations liberate the barbaric and handcuff the civilized." This is truly ludicrous: having spent the previous few paragraphs establishing firmly why the U.N. should not be given any actual power, he now complains that it is unable to firmly assert itself. International organizations are only "mushy" when the member states refuse to give them a backbone. If the U.N. was more like a government, with the power to tax and raise armies, it could do more than simply aim resolutions at Milosevic. Since it is not, it is completely reliant on the richer member states to carry out its foreign policy. Brooks says that "forces of decency" are "paralyzed as they wait for the 'international community,'" but it would be more accurate to say that they are using the international community as an excuse for inaction. Of course the U.N.'s resolutions against Milosevic or Sudan will be ignored if it is clear that no one is willing to actually back them up with force. If, for instance, the United States had made it clear that it was willing to take energetic steps to stop the killing in Darfur -- if Bush had come forward and said that the U.S. wanted a Security council resolution authorizing an arms embargo and possibly other sanctions as well as a large force of peacekeepers, that the U.S. would foot some sizable part of the bill for said peacekeepers, and that the U.S. would supply planes from carriers in the Persian gulf to enforce a no-fly zone over Darfur and give the peacekeepers air support and help with their logistical problems -- things would have been very different. France and Britain would have backed such a resolution, and China and Russia would probably have been reluctant to oppose it if it was clear that the U.S. was really behind it. More money would have been found and the situation might well be much better. Instead, while Bush makes a few speeches denouncing the violence in general terms, he makes it fairly clear that Sudan is not nearly as close to the top of his priority list as, say, Iraq. The result is that the African Union deploys some peacekeepers, but has difficulty due to its logistical deficiencies, the Chinese are emboldened to quietly fight anti-Sudan resolutions in the Security Council due to their demand for Sudanese oil, and progress is very slow. And for Brooks to claim that the international community can "handcuff" anybody is ludicrous: after all, if such was the case, the U.S. would never have invaded Iraq. Really, what this amounts to is that Brooks wants an institution that works only if the U.S. is active in it, and then complains when it doesn't work when the U.S. is not active.

Finally, Brooks says that the American people "will never grant legitimacy to forums that are so often manipulated for partisan ends." One wonders if Brooks has been paying any attention to the proceedings of Congress over the past, oh, 200+ years. Because if he has, he would realize that Congress has been manipulated for partisan ends fairly often. What he is really referring too is the General Assembly's penchant for passing anti-U.S. and anti-Israel resolutions. However, since the General Assembly has no power and its resolutions are essentially meaningless, this is pretty irrelevant. In fact, the General Assembly's lack of power probably contributes to the passage of these resolutions: since no member state will ever worry about their content, they are free to pass anything they feel like.

Brooks finishes up by misrepresenting Bolton's position on the U.N. and engaging in what appears at first to be some more demolishing of straw men: "We will never be so seduced by vapid pieties about global cooperation that we'll join a system that is both unworkable and undemocratic." But a bit of thought reveals that this statement is just wrong, or correct only if we assume that pushing free trade does not fall under the heading of "vapid pieties" and that the WTO works. Otherwise, he already have joined a system that is decidedly undemocratic and has the authority to overrule the Constitution. Yet, strangely enough, Brooks doesn't mention it once in this column. However, given the sheer number of mistakes in this column, it's hard to muster up much outrage over this omission. If the Times isn't going to fire Brooks, couldn't they at least demand that he put more than fifteen minutes of effort into his columns?