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Unaccountability, Or, The ‘S*it Happens’ Party

Paul Pillar does not understand why the GOP presidential candidate has foreign policy advisers instrumental in pushing for the Iraq War: [1]

One mistake should not condemn someone to silence, but we are not talking about just any old mistake. The Iraq War was one of the biggest and costliest blunders in the history of U.S. foreign relations. The human and material costs, including an ultimate fiscal and economic toll in the multiple trillions in addition to the political and diplomatic damage, have been immense. Moreover, promotion of that war demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of fault lines in the Middle East, political culture in the region, the nature of political change there, the roots of enmity and security threats toward the United States, and the limitations of U.S. power and especially military power. There is no reason anyone should pay one iota of attention to what the promoters of that war have to say today on anything related to those subjects. And yet those are the very sorts of subjects, often with particular reference to countries such as Iran, Syria and Libya, on which neocon promoters of the Iraq War expound today.

In some other political system, anyone who had been involved in an official capacity in promoting that war might, after resigning in disgrace, retire from public affairs to tend a garden, write fiction, or make money in private business. But somehow that has not happened with many of the people concerned in this instance.

It is a remarkable thing, when you think about it. There has been no reckoning in Republican ranks. None. As Pillar says:

Then there are the conscious efforts to get Americans to forget about certain recent past experiences including the Iraq War. The war is one of two big things—the origin of the Great Recession being the other—that have led George W. Bush’s own party to regard him during the current election campaign as He Who Must Not Be Named.

As things heat up in the Mideast, is it really the case that we want this crowd back in the saddle advising the US president how to conduct foreign policy? That’s not even a question for me. The question for me is: do I oppose that more than I oppose President Obama running social policy and appointing Supreme Court justices for the next four years?

I don’t know. I go back and forth. As much damage as Obama can do to the causes that mean the most to me, another Republican-led war could be disastrous for the country — and the effects of that disaster would last for many, many years. And, the fact that there has been no reckoning at all in GOP and mainstream conservative circles for the twin disasters of Bush war policy and economic policy makes it hard for me to give a GOP presidential candidate a vote of confidence. One thing that made me a conservative back in my college days was my conviction that the conservatives believed in personal responsibility and accountability, not in blaming society. That is no longer true, apparently. I guess the GOP is now the “hey, s*it happens” party.

Let me hear from fellow social and cultural conservatives who also share my deep misgivings about Romney’s foreign policy circle. What do you all think?

(H/T: James Fallows [2].)

69 Comments (Open | Close)

69 Comments To "Unaccountability, Or, The ‘S*it Happens’ Party"

#1 Comment By Anand On September 17, 2012 @ 11:32 pm


I do agree with you on abortion, but I left the Republican party over the Iraq war and continue to be appalled by how many Republicans refuse to acknowledge the disaster that was the Bush administration. And abortions actually went up under Bush.

I keep hoping that someday I’ll be able to vote for a Republican again. But given the choice between the party of Ayn Rand and the party of John Rawls, I think Rawls is closer to the Christianity I espouse. And in that sense, Obama is also closer to classical conservatism than is Ryan, G.W. Bush, or Grover Norquist. I’m not putting Romney on this list because I simply have no idea what he actually believes.


#2 Comment By Anand On September 17, 2012 @ 11:44 pm


The problem with the Republican view is that it assumes events can be controlled and that countries can be viewed in a Manichean way…a la Cheney and Rumsfeld. It can be argued that this approach is what’s led to the Arab Spring, rather than blaming it on Obama.


#3 Comment By Charles Curtis On September 18, 2012 @ 12:35 am

Obama’s great virtue on social issues is that at least he’s not lying to us. Romney is. Just as the Bushes and Reagan were. Giving the Republicans the power to appoint every justice for the next century will never result in a challenge to Wade. They won’t even hear a pertinent case, forget about reversing the precedent. We’ll lots more where Citizens United came from though, believe me you.

So you can relax, and vote Obama.

#4 Comment By Sean Scallon On September 18, 2012 @ 12:45 am

“Obama running social policy and appointing Supreme Court justices for the next four years?”

That’s why we elect Republicans to Congress. Until conservatives once again figure things out, it’s best to engage in a fighting retreat.

#5 Comment By Patricia On September 18, 2012 @ 12:46 am

I believe both Bush and Obama made the mistake of believing we could win “hearts and minds” in the Middle East. Each presiddent has tried to appeal to different parts of the population, but the assumption that we can gain popular support is common to both men.

Obama’s foreign policies have been closer to Bush’s than I expected.

I don’t believe Romney wants to be president to start another war. We don’t have the money, our credit lines are not infinite, and I just don’t see that foreign policy interests him as much as economic policy. I also am not convinced that Obama has rejected the idea of an attack on Iran. I suspect he wants to let Israel take the lead and provide them with behind-the-scenes support.

I am curious, Rod, what you think our policy on Iran should be. Should we be concerned that they will soon get a nuclear weapon? What, if anything, should we do to protect Israel? These are difficult decisions the next president will have to make, and there is no clear “right” answer.

#6 Comment By Darth Thulhu On September 18, 2012 @ 1:01 am

Coming at this from a libertarian perspective.

On social policy, Obama is bad, Romney is horrific. The Republicans have spent the past six years doing nothing about joblessness and everything about invasive Big Government social regulation in every state house they have controlled. Government has zero job butting into people’s bedrooms or birth control choices, and a mixed mandate on abortion decisions, yet the Republicans cannot wait to enact ever more sweeping and totalitarian social dicta from on high. What part of “small government” they think they are selling I cannot imagine.

Likewise in foreign policy: Obama is bad, Romney would be a horror.

@Brian: The way Romney can easily wreck us with regard to Iran (and Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) is by being a spineless “pro-democracy” delegator and mindless belligerent free from accountability in the mold of the latter Bush. Bush delegated his entire foreign policy to Cheney-ite neocons, pushed through Orwellian police-state laws like the “Patriot” Act, and blithely supported massive debt-funded military adventurism while daring anyone non-interventionist to say anything or get labelled treasonously unpatriotic. All of those utterly failed advisors are now Romney apparatchiks.

These people pushed for accelerated elections in Palestine (leading to the Hamas takeover of Gaza), Iraq (leading to the government that invited us out), and Afghanistan (leading to the current kleptocracy that will collapse the microsecond we stop propping it up). These people argue that Obama hasn’t done *enough* to arm Iranian rebels, hasn’t done *enough* to encourage Syrian rebellion, didn’t do *enough* to take the lead in Libya, hasn’t done *enough* to support unilateral Israeli military efforts, hasn’t done *enough* to let our armed forces soil themselves with systematic torture regimes.

Their policy is crystal clear: more democracy-arming, more mindless support of Israel getting itself into shooting wars, more torture, more sabre-rattling at Russia and China and Iran and North Korea and Egypt and Pakistan and Togo and Guinea-Bissau, when we are dead broke to actually wage a war against any of them.

It’s just pure incompetence, doubling down on proven failures and raging at Obama for not being reckless *enough*. Gary Johnson is the only candidate encouraging *less* Big Government; Obama is all about carefully consolidating the Big Government we already have; and Romney’s crew is all about cutting taxes and raising defense spending and initiating more conflicts and then being surprised when the deficit explodes and the economy implodes again.

#7 Comment By EngineerScotty On September 18, 2012 @ 1:26 am

problem with the Republican view is that it assumes events can be controlled and that countries can be viewed in a Manichean way…a la Cheney and Rumsfeld. It can be argued that this approach is what’s led to the Arab Spring, rather than blaming it on Obama.

But only foreign affairs.

Domestic affairs, despite being an arena where the government has unquestioned authority, are too complex for the state to manage, and must be left to The Almighty Market.

Socialism abroad, crony cowboy capitalism here at home.

#8 Comment By Lord Karth On September 18, 2012 @ 1:59 am

JonF writes: Determined warmongers do not need money for war-making. Germany was an economic basketcase when Herr Hitler took over. Ditto France when Napoleon came into his own. Neither was converted into pacifists by such inconvenience. They simply demanded that the rich yield up their treasure to the Nation (and confiscated what was not yielded up willingly), and what they couldn’t get at home they grabbed abroad.

Warfare in those earlier times was simply not as dependent on the high-tech materials and munitions that the military uses today. In WW2, it took days to build aircraft and tanks, not months or years. There simply wasn’t the “military-industrial complex” and bureaucracy that we have today.

Secondly, there are powerful lobbies that would spring into action on behalf of the wealthier classes the instant an attempt to raise taxes or confiscate wealth appears on the horizon. (Which is a healthy thing, IMO.) Let’s put it this way: when I start seeing Timothy Geithner, Warren Buffett or any major Wall Street figure involved in the 2008 difficulties doing a perp walk, then I will allow that you have a point. Until then, I just don’t see it.

The major difference between the examples you cite and our situation, however, is this: Neither Hitlerite Germany nor Napoleonic France had saddled themselves with the Provider State that we have in today’s USA. Entitlements take up some 55 % of central-government spending, whereas military spending accounts for perhaps 20 %. When that welfare spending is so popular and expectations about it are so ingrained in our political culture that even an obviously humorous attempt to merely slow down the rate of growth in the far future (a/k/a the “Ryan Plan”) is met with loud cries of anguish, it’s pretty clear that the military is not going to see much more cash, for ANY reason, any time soon. The spending priorities of THIS political elite are crystal clear, and the military is not high among them.

No cash, no wars. You’ve got to be able to pay the troops, especially in an all-volunteer military. IF the draft is reinstated, and IF Medicare/SocSec spending is cut to boost Pentagon spending, I will be more than happy to concede your point. But as with Wall Street perp walks, I just don’t see that happening.

Now, on with the Countdown……

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#9 Comment By M_Young On September 18, 2012 @ 2:47 am

“Giving the Republicans the power to appoint every justice for the next century will never result in a challenge to Wade.”

Abortion is not my issue, but I believe there are several decisions regarding abortion that affirmed the states that want to chip away at Roe. Without Republican appointed Justices, I doubt that would have happened.

Of course on things like the Ricci case (denying white firefighters promotions because they scored too high on tests), Obama’s hypothetical new Justices would further entrench privileges for ‘minorities’.

#10 Comment By M_Young On September 18, 2012 @ 2:54 am

“Hey, good news, M_Young: Romney says those 2 million kids will “believe that they are victims” and never “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.” Thus, nothing for you and your kids to worry about.”

Exactly wrong — because eventually those amnestied will somehow get to vote, and they will vote for even more wealth transfers and special privileges.

#11 Comment By JonF On September 18, 2012 @ 6:01 am

SDB: I also defended Bush in this thread for any primary blame for the mortgage crash.
But: Bush’s deficits were anything but modest, especially when you consider he started with a surplus. Moreover Bush hid a lot of spending off-budget; Obama has brought all that spending back into the daylight, which is one reason his deficits appear far larger.
The CRA had zilch to do with the mortgage meltdown. That is rightwing canard about as realistic as blaming the machinations of the Illuminati.
Dodd-Frank is a headwind only for big banks whose trading activities have been curtailed a bit– “trading” here means the ability to gamble immense sums of money not their own in a casino economy they have rigged as well as they can.

#12 Comment By Liam On September 18, 2012 @ 7:38 am

“Republicans are not eager for war, Republican congressmen are not eager for war.”

Wow. If the constant drumbeat from neocons for interventionism isn’t eagerness for war, then I’d hate to see what eagerness for war looks like. Unless and until the neocon ideology is put out of our misery as it deserves, there’s little hope for the GOP.

#13 Comment By pj On September 18, 2012 @ 8:53 am

I basically feel exactly like you Rod. I don’t want Obama’s social agenda making policy and affecting the Supreme Court further but Romney’s economic and foreign policy are horrendous. It’s the same dilemma as in 2004. In that case I sucked it up and supported Bush for another term because the court really was a major issue for me. This time I don’t see it. Who are the oldest justices–the ones most likely to retire/die off? Ginsburg–true having Romney in office could make a better appointment but I don’t see her going with the GOP in the White House. She is one tough lady. Scalia–the opposite situation, I think he would rather leave SCOTUS in a box than retire with a Dem president. The third is Kennedy, who indeed is the whole ball of wax on the court. However, is there really any chance he’s going to retire anytime soon regardless of who wins? He’s probably the most powerful justice in decades, notwithstanding the Obamacare decision. He decides 95% of the 5-4 decisions. I don’t see him going anywhere while he has such power to shape a “legacy”.

Of course the other issue for both of us Rod is that you (and I) both live in safe states anyway. Honestly, if Romney needs your vote in Louisiana or my vote in Kentucky, he is already beyond dead anyway. So I’m in the “send a message” mode this year for President; will pick someone outside of the two parties.

#14 Comment By CK On September 18, 2012 @ 9:44 am

“It’s the same dilemma as in 2004. In that case I sucked it up and supported Bush for another term because the court really was a major issue for me.”

Such a dilemma is known as a false dilemma, which is s.o.p. for a leviathan state.

#15 Comment By sdb On September 18, 2012 @ 10:12 am

@JonF The numbers I quoted included on and off budget federal outlays as defined by OMB (see Table 1.1). Bush started with a $128B surplus, and 9/11+the wars+downturn turned that into $412B deficit (18% of the expenditure). By 2007, that was brought down to $160B (6% of the expenditures). Obama’s deficits have hovered in the 35-40% range. That’s a huge difference.

The OMB data doesn’t support your claim that Obama has moved all spending on-budget. In fact, the OMB data indicates that Obama’s off budget spending has slightly increased.

Your characterization of Dodd-Frank isn’t serious. [3] [4] this act certainly disagrees with it.

Your claim that CRA had “zilch” to do with the mortgage meltdown is not supported by the data. Your assertions aren’t evidence. Looking at summaries of reports by [5] and various responses, I remain unconvinced that CRA had “zilch” to do with inflating the bubble.

So as far as I can see what we are left with is, we had a terrible worldwide economic crisis, Bush was in the Whitehouse, so the GOP should repudiate everything he stood for. Oh, and he was dumb. “Taxcuts for the rich”, “deregulation”, and “too big to fail” are little more than verbal Talismans – utterly devoid of meaning.

#16 Comment By Uncle Vanya On September 18, 2012 @ 10:19 am

Pillar is correct: Whyever is anyone still listening to the advice and considerations of people who were so wrong, (not partially wrong, abysmally wrong),on the Middle East?
Sadly, a large sector of the electorate not only still considers their advice worthy of consideration but also are willing to seriously listen to their calls for a new war, this time with Iran.

If they’re so arrogant and devoid of decency to maintain a respectful silence after helping to foist upon the Amerian people such disastrous policies, maybe it’s time to name names, to call them out publicly as dangerous fools. Doing so is not very considerate and goes completely against the manner in which I prefer to deal with people, but when the ones in question were so instrumental in harming this country and other countries in incalculable ways for generations to come, then openly calling them out and naming names, to prevent them from doing more evil through their asinine ideas is the moral thing to do.

#17 Comment By Chris Atwood On September 18, 2012 @ 11:26 am

Fact checking Anand’s statement: “And abortions actually went up under Bush.”

Actually this is incorrect. There were reports of a rise early in the Bush presidency, but they were quickly rebutted and later statistics show a continuing trend of decline. See here [6] . It’s hard to find figures more recent that 2005, but one graph with figures for North America as a whole shows decline continuing into 2008: [7]

#18 Comment By JonF On September 18, 2012 @ 5:48 pm

Re: Secondly, there are powerful lobbies that would spring into action on behalf of the wealthier classes the instant an attempt to raise taxes or confiscate wealth appears on the horizon.

You are assuming a democracy that allows lobbies. My examples were of dictators who brooked no such opposition: you were either with them or against them. Napoleon allowed some of his nicer opponents to go into “voluntary” exile, though he was not above assassinations. Hitler of course simply sent people to the camps.
On your larger point you are suffering from the “economics delusion”, the notion that economics and finance is dispositive. To the extent it is true in our nation, it is only because our nation permits it to be. But if it came to it, the sword will easily slice through the spreadsheet every time. Bond vigilantes bleed as easily as the rest of us do, and bankers can be made to toe the line– or else.

#19 Comment By JonF On September 18, 2012 @ 6:10 pm

I posted hastily while half asleep this morning, but I am on very firm ground.

First off, re: Dodd-Frank. The new law is not even fully enacted so any scholarly work on it is merely speculative not definitive. And I work for one of the nation’s biggest mega-banks; I keep my eyes and ears open, and I daily read the financial press. It is indeed as I have said: the focus of opposition to Dodd-Frank among the banks is due to its chilling effect on trading desks (see: Volcker rule).

In regards to the CRA, I am a first-hand witness to the mortgage boom and bust: I was working in our mortgage purchase, sale and securitization unit at the height of the boom, and I had a ringside seat for The Fall.

First off: the CRA applied only to banks. But banks were no longer in the lead in originating mortgages in the bubble years: a vast host of non-bank lenders were. the CRA did not apply to them; they cared nothing for it– and neither did we. In fact our mortgage database did not even have fields for CRA compliance, nor did we track the race of borrowers– the CRA did not much matter to anyone in the bubble years, apart from those banks who were required to report to federal authorities (and only report: the CRA did not force even banks to lend money to any particular borrower, it only forced banks to report on the race, gender, ethnic and income categories of their mortgage applicants, and as long as there was no pattern of prejudicial lending in whom they accepted and whom they rejected they were not further troubled by the law).

These non-banks lenders were often appallingly reckless– and why not: they were playing with borrowed money not their own. The big banks (us) underwrote their efforts and then bought their mortgages for MBS, or, more rarely, for further resale to the GSEs. We were warehouse lender to New Century Inc, which led the way in jettisoning sensible lending standards, and also led the way to ruin, going bankrupt in early 2007. We were showered with many thousands of collateral mortgages at that time– most of which were not worth the paper they were written on– and sometimes not even that– the documentary deficiencies we suffered as a result were monumental– a large fraction of those mortgages went straight to debt collection companies, as we did not even want them on our books.

The mortgage bust had two great engines behind it: house flipping and “the House as ATM”. In Florida (where I lived then) I watched middle class (and mostly white) people buy up multiple pricey properties with plans to sell after a couple years for a huge profit. They generally lied through their teeth to do this, inflating their incomes and assets, and also their intentions: in 2008 I could easily have found cases where the same borrower was claiming half a dozen houses as “owner-occupied” (interest rates and insurance are cheaper for owner occupants). I have cousins who got involved in that business, to their ruin, and my Fort Lauderdale landlady, was another flipper. And then there were all those imprudent people who cashed in on their inflated home values by either taking out HELOCs or doing cash-out refis and charging them up for foolish purposes. I could rant on for days about the stupidity of the American public in that era– and I mean the whole American public not just some racial fraction of it.

No non-partisan analysis takes seriously the claim that CRA caused the mortgage bubble and bust. That claim is a piece of scapegoating propaganda belonging to the same category (if not of the same magnitude) as “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion”. If Rod will indulge me for my untoward bluntness, it is bullshit, and walking around on high, high stilts leading the mindlessly partisans blind in thrall behind it.