Commenter Archive

On “Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic

The depiction of Obama's actions and omissions in 2013, and of the criticisms made, is far more complicated than the notion that his decision against military action was a blunder. Nor is it at all clear that if Obama - or Hillary - were in office today, they would have reacted in quite the same way. It seems more likely that, if they were intent upon launching a punishment strike, they would have sought to assemble allies internationally and in Congress first, and in relation to clearly enunciated or re-enunciated goals. If f they had ended up ordering unilateral action, and so without Congressional authorization, they not only would have been following an already enunciated logic, they would be following a logic that they themselves had openly embraced and repeatedly re-stated. In the case of Trump, we have someone who in 2013 was arguing against any involvement in the Syrian Civil War, and who throughout 2015-6 and since winning the election had maintained that line, instead insisting on an ISIS-only focus.

The claim that bob is making, beginning from that offhand remark of Goldberg's is not about any particular action, for or against. The question amounts to whether Trump can be said to have any policy at all, since no one has any assurance that what he forcefully declares one week, or day, or hour will still be his position next week, or day, or hour, or that he even conceives of the possibility of beining held accountable for his declations - whether in relation to Assad or with Assad's conduct or to China or North Korea or health insurance or his tax returns or Janet Yellen anything else.


Yes you and many of us have been alarmed for some time, and said so many times, and with considerable force and insight. What I'm advocating, tilting away at windmills, spitting and pissing into the wind, is to make at least a gesture away from the insight, understatement, hope, sincere and pro forma both, that somehow it's not as bad as it seems, or maybe things will get better, of maybe somebody will be able to influence that fellow to follow a better, more informed, considered path, a gesture away from all of that and say something as clear and bald as, "He doesn't know what he's doing!"

Imagine the effect of mass marches at which the slogan shouted and signed was "He doesn't know what he doing!" Or of panel after panel of pundits saying, one after the other, not clever insightful wisdom, but simply, "He doesn't know what he doing!" Or of Chuck and Nancy not saying well honed political stilettos, but only "He doesn't know what he's doing."


President Obama articulated a doctrine of sorts regarding U.S. policy vis a vis the Syrian civil war, which more or less stated that the U.S. would not concern itself overmuch with the Syrian conflict unless chemical weapons were used. In that event, President Obama clearly suggested that an American military response would be in order.

When chemical weapons were subsequently deployed in the Ghouta incident, President Obama hesitated to carry out his implied threat--a hesitation that was widely construed by establishment commentators and politicians at the time to have been a blunder. Even so, the Obama administration managed to secure an agreement from the Syrian regime to surrender its remaining chemical weapon stockpiles.

The most recent episode of chemical weapons use in Syria--which U.S. intelligence is apparently certain was carried out by the Assad regime--suggests either that the Syrian government cheated on the previous agreement or has since produced fresh stock--clearly an unacceptable development for ongoing U.S. policy.

If President Obama were still occupying that office at this point in time, it seems probable that he himself would have carried out a strike not at all dissimilar from the one President Trump ordered. In any case, the strike--admittedly more symbolic than practical--is a logical step relative to a U.S. policy enunciated by the Obama administration and obviously embraced by the Trump administration as well--namely, expressing severe disapproval over the use of chemical weapons in contemporary conflicts.

Despite the fact that political establishments in both North America and Europe aren't inclined to laud President Trump, the missile strike has garnered widespread support from those same establishments, with the recent G-7 summit of foreign ministers being a good example. If "[President Trump] doesn’t know what he’s doing!!!!!!”, at least in this particular instance, then it is evidently the case that the same political establishments so beloved of C.K. MacLeod don't know what they're doing either.


I'been in a state of alarm ever since he started winning R primaries, for a time allayed (mis-allayed?) by my mistaken trust in the remnant good sense of enough of the electorate, so in a heightened state of alarm ever since 11/9...

...but you can get used to anything, at least until it kills you.

As for not knowing what he's doing, that's been clear for a while. It also seems that he does not care and never has cared very much about the fact that he doesn't know what he's doing, assuming he even knows that much. Or he doesn't care or care very much, or for very long, until and unless some problem his ignorance and carelessness have created has walked up and hit him in the nose while shouting out its identity.

We might as well have a Magic 8-Ball as president - a malevolent Magic 8-Ball. It does seem that his defense people are capable of imposing greater consistency and responsibility to some significant extent, but our government is not designed to be run from the DoD

On “Better Twitter Embeds 2: Stripping the Convo for the Sake of the Convo

[…] developed an approach for achieving the desired effect via function, but this post is still good […]

On “Jeffrey Goldberg: The Obama Doctrine, R.I.P. – The Atlantic

As usual, JG writes a well written thoughtful piece that helps one to better understand events. Since Trump incomprehensively provided Assad with a atta boy fireworks display, (military strike you say?????) I been reading and seeing/hearing all kinds of thoughtful, well presented perspectives about this event.

I do think it's time for these well informed, articulate commentators to just say in plain language what seems obvious to me.

That fellow doesn't know what he's doing.

For example, JG's dry, "President Trump’s governing foreign policy doctrine is not easily discernible, of course." will not do.

He doesn't know what he's doing and that should be alarming to everyone no matter what your political orientation. The people around him who do know what they're doing cannot save the day because he's the Pres and they are not.

Of course we can observe that no one can "know what they doing" in that job. But the present situation far surpasses this baseline meaning, and it cries out for the explicit, alarming observation that "He doesn't know what he's doing!!!!!!"

On “American Idealism, American Identity – Thread by @dhnexon, with Brief Comments

I think you and I see the main thrust or main problem with Nexon's argument diametrically differently. I think it's easy to place all four Republican presidents you name (and all of the other presidents since Roosevelt, at least) on the same plane, and I think Trump, perhaps against his will, is being dragged back onto it or is succumbing to its gravity or inertia. The differences are 1) that Trump doesn't seem even to understand it, as he doesn't seem to understand much of apparently anything except how to work a room and fool a fool, and 2) that people who are more self-consciously anti-liberal or far-right in the more Old World and America First senses have latched onto him and pulled him along in their direction. At the same time, as I was trying to suggest in the tweet about dual nature of American identity (flag and (liberal-constitutional) republic), and as I've been trying to say all along, the Trumpian ("national populist") impetus has always been there, and there's no nation without it.

I agree with you more on the second part, though I'd say Obama fell more within classic retrenchment, and during his 2nd term was readier to fish than the citizenry was.


I'm not sure if the prism Nexon is using here works. Not the least reason is it's tough for me to put Ike, Reagan and both Bushes on the same plane even if one is trying to draw out a distinction with Trump.

I also remember a lot of Soros haterade from the 'traditional' right on the internet during the Bush II administration, in the vein of 'he's not promoting liberal democracy, he's promoting an international progressive socialist agenda'

To me, it still comes down to that the foreign policy establishments, left and right, have never really come to grips with the 'what ought to be' questions that emerged in the aftermath of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Defeating Nazis and other fascists was easy and straightforward. Defeating Communism was a longer slog, but eventually accomplished (with a lot more people taking credit for it than they deserve). Then after a decade of just operating in the moment, a whole lot of people thought they found their new lodestone after 9/11, but Bush went on a disastrous neo-Wilsonian adventure, and Obama couldn't decide whether to fish or cut bait.

On “Brain ‘rewires’ itself to enhance other senses in blind people – Harvard Medical School

I misquoted you with my "We strip away..." What I meant to refer to was your "So the business of cognitive science will be to strip away what is non-essential to thinking and confine it to the realm of mere things." So as I understand you, thinking would be not a mere thing. But what is it? Your characterization of any characterization as an interesting failure is interesting.

Nagarjuna goes on to distinguish essences as nullities versus things without essence that drive their "thingness" from their functionality, their place in the matrix of causes and conditions. This contains all the begged questions and paradoxes of mereology in general.

So his solution is to argue that things are only things because of their functionality. That we can perceive them and how they function proves they are things. "Essence", since it does not reside in the matrix of causes and conditions, does not function, so therefore does not exist.

Nargajuna occupies a unique place in Buddhist thought. He is regarded as the person whom Buddha prophesied as the only person following him to really get it right. So, at least Mahayana-ites all have to assert they conform to his writings - with more of less success.

So all this is probably way more response than is functional, but its been tough writing for quite a while now, and this just flowed to a greater extent than has been true. So I went with it. Hope you found it reasonably interesting.


Nagarjuna's reasoning is correct, based on his presumptions.

...if “we strip away the non-essential” fully, we are left with nothing.

Or, more precisely, we are left with "no thing," which would not be the same... thing... as absolute nullity.


Perhaps my Buddhst buddies' long version can be condensed to a stanza.

Augmenting the Dalai Lama's famous (poorly paraphrased as)"if science contradicts anything Buddhism teaches we'll have to revise it" he said something about science's basic "ontological confusion". That is describing how something works is not describing its essence - since essence does not exist.

The essential Nagurjuna puts like this:

Essence arising from
Causes and conditions makes no sense.
Essence arisen from causes and conditions
Would be created.

So if "we strip away the non-essential" fully, we are left with nothing.


You could take the position - and on reflection it would be a quite arguable position, if not necessarily a practical assumption to guide research - that the essence of thinking, what we ought to think of as thinking truly, must always finally evade detection, or must be that which detecting cannot detect, because it is already the detecting. So the business of cognitive science will be to strip away what is non-essential to thinking and confine it to the realm of mere things. The science as opposed to the philosophy of thinking would be a continually pushing away of its object by closing in on it - or an endless series of potentially interesting failures. So, like every other science, only especially so. Or: Since "science" could stand for "thought," any science of science would be infinitely regressive meta-science, science of science of science of science ad infinitum. For the long version I'm afraid it would be back to Hegel or maybe to some of your Buddhist buddies.


Absolutely. As I said, a quibble. But on reflection, the idea that brains can develop differently in an observable way as a result of a difference in the sensory field it processes is pretty breathtaking.

For me, the word "rewiring" has a visceral immediacy that perhaps over emphasizes the "re" part of it. Still, I think science reporting too often is not as precise as it could be and still retain readability.

Your last paragraph interests me... At this point in the proceedings, how can we think anything else?


I guess the implication is that them brains is turning out differently than they might have been expected to turn out otherwise - the main takeaway being that the condition of blindness correlates with objectively measurable or detectable organic differences in brain structure, whatever terms you apply to them.

I was interested by the article in part because I have frequently seen people asserting that the traditional claim regarding enhancement or alteration of other senses was a myth. Also interesting that changes in memory and language processing are also detected.

Would of course also be interesting if other "re-wirings" were detected. When I was reading up on cognitive science or neuroscience years ago, it was my understanding that one of the premises undergirding them/it was that every change in mental or subjective state must correlate with an in theory detectable alteration in physical state - that every thought is also a thing or is thingy.


A rhetorical quibble:

In this context, "rewires" seems not quite the right metaphor. Not surprisingly, the abstract uses more scientific rather than metaphoric language. Since the paper examines the scans of very early onset blindness, it may be more a case of their brains developing differently rather than "rewiring" which suggests individual brains changed structurally.

Such adaptability in development would be just as significant as any acquired changes in structure.

On “Benjamin Wittes: How to Read What Comey Said Today – Lawfare

Yeah, I read C's comments as trying to do a variety of things at the same time, having the effect of making interpretation more difficult.

Any investigation of T himself would seem to be conducted in a very closely held way. If there is a there there about T himself, C's probably got one shot when he goes public. You can't read the tea leaves until the tea stops roiling around the cup.

If C was describing an ongoing investigation that is "one step away from the president", how does it not constantly invoke the "what/when did he know it" question, ie be about the pres himself.


Sure, so why do they have "work Phones" they take home? Even if they don't have fate of the world responsibilities, who they work for does, and if I'm that person and I call up Bob R&F's work phone for a point of info, I want an answer right then.

A minor point at best....

BTW what happened to my avatar?


Idunno - but there are a fairly large number of people working at the WH. Not all of them are on 24/7 call, fate of the world hinging on their answering immediately.


I'm struggling to understand who "rank and file White House aides" could refer to. It's pretty rarified real estate - is there "rank and file" anything there? Which gets to my real question - whoever they are, how can they get away with turning off their work phones ever? I mean that's kinda the point of such phones - 24/7 availability.

On “American Idealism, American Identity – Thread by @dhnexon, with Brief Comments

The discussion is an ancient discussion, so I'm not saying anything even remotely new or original if I point out that, in the dialectic of the liberalizing state, a failure point is reached where, precisely for the reasons you offer, people, as we say, "forget who they are" or no longer can tell who or what they authentically are or what they authentically care about or whether they authentically care about anything at all. It's at the point, explaining why, that we see "the best lack all conviction." It's at the same point that a Trump slouches toward DC to be born, the kind of figure we would need to invent if he didn't arise on his own, as we also say, discounting the possibility that we really did invent him, if not quite consciously. We need an enemy, in this theory, to know who our friends are, and, since we don't have the evil aliens invading the planet, we turn to and against the evil aliens we conjure among us out of the available human material. In the classic game, the ones who move first meet little resistance, so their power waxes for a time, but over the same period they themselves become enemies much more satisfactory, more really dangerous and reprehensible, than the ones they made up, and so discover and in discovering enable the founding of the true and righteous resistance. Surely it will arise. What seems less certain, and would be unknowable ahead of time, is how much it will resemble either the new enemy or the prior losers.


I think it's a common liberal desire, and one that isn't at all easily obtained, to allow people to commit to those identities without ever having their commitment tested to the point of destruction. One of the great triumphs of American liberalism (mostly accomplished before left-liberalism was a distinct thing) was to allow Christian sectarian identities to peacefully coexist without the "unto death" part.

Viewing this as some sort of anodyne state of nature is where, I think, left-liberals tend to veer into "hollow universalism". It's a wonderful and rare form of freedom, and to quote from the more traditional American right (ctrl-right? Top 40 right?), freedom isn't free. It's taken a lot of work, sacrifice and care to make it possible.

As an aside, I wonder if the reason jihadists seem to pose a challenge to liberalism wildly disproportionate to any level of physical threat (relative to, say, communism in the 20th century) is because jihadism is maniacally focused on mass murder/suicide as a demonstration of authenticity.

On “Eric Levitz: The Case for Countering Trumpism With ‘Left-Wing Economics’ – New York

He cares, or cared, about people getting the impression he cared about whether people had the impression he cared about their caring, and that's about as close to authentically caring as they've mostly gotten.


The mere idea, let alone observable reality apparently, that one has to explain to people that an Old Money oligarch whose spent the last several decades slapping his name on everything & living in a gold encrusted tower does not care about the working class... I'm slackjawed at this.

America gets an F in Basic Class Consciousness 101.

On “The Deep State vs the Derp State (OAG #10)

Seems especially any Fuehrer-principle-ish movement has to assume malign counter-agents, since otherwise it would have to acknowledge that the world may not really be susceptible to His Indomitable Will, or its Triumph. But everyone who proposes anything "radical" faces at least some version of that problem. The Left or progressivism gets into its own peculiar trouble along those lines, too. The assumption is that the same history bending inexorably toward justice requires expert interventions uniquely by Leftists or progressives, but the prospects for collective human agency, whether of the masses or its vanguard, are also exaggerable.

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