February 18, 2005

Dean/Perle Debate Recap

Well, that was definitely an experience.

Did you hear about the flying shoe?

Maybe I should back up. Tonight there was a debate between Howard Dean and Richard Perle in Portland, OR. You all know who Dean is. Perle is one of the architects of PNAC, the group that planned the invasion of Iraq long before 9/11. He's a neocon's neocon, one who will unapologetically defend their aims without bothering to disguise it in froofy talk like Bush does.

The debate started with each person giving a fifteen-minute opening statement. Perle's was highly disciplined but relatively simplistic. 9/11 changed everything, we didn't take terrorists seriously beforehand, they saw us as weak, they attacked us, and it was up to us to preemptively attack the states that harbored them to protect ourselves.

Somewhere in there he made reference to the military loss of life, and how he's recently become aware that Oregon has suffered disproportionately in that regard. He then proceeded to express how he felt for us in return.

I imagine that Perle is a pretty smart guy. Maybe he isn't, but in this case I have to believe that he knew that the audience would see that comment as crass. I think Perle's got a bit of a nasty streak in him.

You'd expect it would make someone want to go ballistic.

Enter Bruce. :-) A 52-year old man comes running down the right aisle, screaming "MOTHERFUCKING LIAR! LIAR!". He ran up to the stage, and... and threw his shoe at him. He missed. The funny part was that the shoe bounced off the back of the stage, and went right back to him. He stopped, momentarily confused, and then picked up the shoe and threw it at him again.

He got tackled on the ground in the audience. Perle continued to try to talk. ("He's passionate, but luckily he's inaccurate.") "Bruce" continued to scream, "LET ME UP, MOTHERFUCKERS!" and then as they finally carried him out of the hall, he was screaming, "WHORE! WHORE! HE'S A WHORE!" (Perle: "It's all right, there's a certain repetition to his theme.")

Honestly, it was pretty entertaining. I'm normally made very uncomfortable by things like that, but from where I was sitting, I think people generally enjoyed the whole display.

That said, people clapped in support of Perle after that, and when the moderator stuck up for him, so it might not have been the best tactics. On the other hand, the applause felt a bit perfunctory, as perfunctory as applause can feel.

Now, as for the actual debate.

I had never seen Dean in person before.  Actually, I don't believe I had ever seen someone in person before who I had seen so often on television.  My main odd impression was that he looked a lot more like what I thought he would look like than I thought he would.  :-)  I guess that television thing is pretty accurate.

I have to say, Perle is pretty politically stupid.  He's also among the more honest neocons.  What I mean by that is, he will often actually say one of the neocon's true goals, while they usually try to hide their goals.  I imagine the GOP winces at him occasionally.

To me there were two real jaw-droppers.  One was about the failure to find WMD.  Perle said that using that as a reason to oppose invading Iraq is a bit like realizing at the end of the year, your house didn't burn down, so therefore you shouldn't have bought your fire insurance policy a year earlier.  

I actually booed involuntarily on that one (as did the entire rest of the audience).  I couldn't help it.  It was just so amazingly outrageous.  Plus, I think that Perle was being sincere there, I don't think it was some artful crafted talking point.  He actually sees them as analogous.  Never mind all the lost life.  Never mind the thing about the fire insurance policy actually making your house more flammable.

The other moment was that Dean asked Perle to just speak freely about how he would solve the North Korea problem.  Perle basically said that we should blackmail China by telling them that if they didn't solve North Korea for us peacefully, that we would be forced to solve it by force.  There was no booing there.  Just a whole lot of silence and a couple of gasps.

In hindsight, I almost wonder if Dean had done that deliberately by knowing ahead of time that Perle would say something like that.  Giving him rope to hang himself, etc.

Finally, there was a good exchange at the end where Dean beat Perle pretty strongly.  Perle made the point that foreign policy should be more nonpartisan than other areas of policy, and asked Dean what he would do to help depoliticize it.  Dean didn't take the bait and said that Bush was very partisan, and wasn't open to Democratic input about foreign policy.  It was ballsy because Perle had struck a very conciliatory tone in his question.  Perle responded with the caustic comment that he was sure that any Democratic input would have been mentioned to the president by his Secretary of State.  That got a lot of mocking from the audience.  He also opened himself right up to Dean's response: "And he was treated like a Democrat."  

It was another example of Perle being politically stupid; using Powell as an example of bipartisanship when Powell isn't even there anymore.

Overall, there was one pretty important undercurrent to the whole discussion. Perle's policies really are internally consistent if you adopt his world view. The problem isn't that he's making errors within his own defined parameters. The problem is the parameters themselves. The problem is that he declares irrelevant some very damaging effects of the policies he defends. On Dean's end, he pounded home the point over and over again that being strong on defense and looking out for our long-term future are not mutually exclusive. There was one key point in the debate where that point really came through. Perle had been deriding the concept of "soft power" by saying that it was a poor alternative to using necessary force. Dean took him to task for restating the question and said that no Democrat had ever defended abdicating force; that instead, the Democrats believe we need both.

Other reflections - I was sitting near the front.  It seemed like the first fifty rows were all Republicans, and all of the mezzanine and balcony levels were Democrats.  You could actually hear the applause coming from different parts of the hall that way.  Typical...

I think that's also the first time I've been around so many Republicans.  So many suits and ties.  I found myself staring at them, wondering what makes them tick.  Surely they can't all be in it just for power's sake...?

I do have to say that I was very struck by the vocal response of the Portland audience.  Passionate, extremely participatory, and without it being a college crowd - these were like your next door neighbors, parents and professionals, caring deeply and standing up to Perle's bullshit a lot more than most Democratic politicians do.  Portland rocks.  I so love living here.

And one more note. The entire debate was about foreign policy, dominated by Iraq and the middle east. The number of times the word "oil" was uttered? Zero. I am torn whether that was a glaring omission, or if it really is impossible to bring it up in a responsible way. Anyway, it's unsettling.

Posted by Curt at February 18, 2005 01:15 AM

Thanks for your informative overview of the Pearle v. Dean debate. I have gone to the Tom McCall Forum many times in the past since I was a Political Science undergrad at Pacific University.

Curt said: "Other reflections - I was sitting near the front. It seemed like the first fifty rows were all Republicans, and all of the mezzanine and balcony levels were Democrats. You could actually hear the applause coming from different parts of the hall that way. Typical...

"I think that's also the first time I've been around so many Republicans. So many suits and ties. I found myself staring at them, wondering what makes them tick. Surely they can't all be in it just for power's sake...?"

This is probably due to the fact that most of the lower level seats are given to sponsors of the event and sponsors of the $100/plate scholarship benefit dinner held before the debate. When I was a student I actually attended a couple of the dinners. When a sponsor buys a table ($1000) they usually set aside a seat or two for Pacific University students so they can see where the scholarship money is going to. Most of the table sponsors were timber companies or other large companies when I attended. From the list of sponsors on the Tom McCall Forums webpage(http://www.pacificu.edu/news_events/events/forum/) I am not sure if that is really true any longer. But the large percentage of suit and tie wearers is almost defiantly explained by the dinner beforehand.

Posted by: Noah at February 18, 2005 11:49 AM

I think what Perle was getting at with his WMD/fire insurance analogy is that such foreign policy decisions must be made with imperfect information.

Posted by: John at February 18, 2005 07:09 PM

Yeah, I was unclear in my mocking. What's so awful about his analogy is not what is *in* the analogy, but what is left *out*. To compare a war to home insurance is just ridiculous, because of how it trivializes it. It's really the trivialization that everyone was so upset about.

My own comment was just basically making the point that if I were offered a fire insurance policy that would kill thousands of people and also make my house more flammable in the long run, I sure wouldn't buy it.

The war was, Perle implied, insurance against Iraqi-based aggression against the United States. It's a very fair criticism to point out that Iraq might just be more of a terrorist threat now than it was before the invasion. He left that out.

Posted by: tunesmith at February 18, 2005 07:26 PM

My co-blogger Carla and I were at the debate too.

About Perle... It seems to me that his crass comment about the loss of Oregon lives in Iraq should be understood in the same basic context as his politically stupid analogy about the life insurance policy. Which is to say that I think he spends so much time in his own head that he's not exactly tuned to how his words might be understood by others. I think he was genuinely trying to show sympathy with his comment about Oregon deaths. Which just shows how out of touch he really is, IMHO.

We were over near the left side wall, about half way back on the orchestra (main) level. So, the shoe bomber was not real close to us. I read your observations with interest because from my vantage point I could have sworn he threw both shoes. I thought that the shoe he picked up was his second shoe which had bounced off the front of the stage. His first shoe was thrown well before he got up by the stage.

Good post, all in all. You remembered far more details than I did! Carla and I put up individual posts on it. She took copious notes, so her's is much more detailed than mine. LOL

Posted by: Kevin at February 19, 2005 04:43 PM

I watched the debate on C-Span and what follows are what I consider very good questions. I'd actualy like some answers instead of ad hominem attacks...

Just curious -we're you in favor of the first Gulf War? 90% of the population was, as was 90% of the rest of the world. Oil aside, we don't just let countries march in and take over other countries -anywhere in the world. It's simply not done. Saddam spends ten years peeing on the cease fire agreement and suddenly we're the bad guys for holding him to account. How can you expect any country to take us seriously if we let a little schmuck like Saddam get away with murder?

I regret the loss of life as much as anyone, but I'm glad we don't live in the forties where instead of fifteen thousand civilians dead, the toll would be 300,000 civilians dead. Anyway you slice it, lives have been spared by our intervention into Iraq and if you disagree, I'd like to see you math.

If you have a better idea to disarm North Korea than blackmailing China to do it for us, I'd like to hear it. Is it that you just don't care if Kim Jong Il has nukes?

Just a random thought, but today I saw a car with two bumper stickers "Free Tibet" and "Kerry/ Edawards". I just wonder what he'd do if we actually DID free Tibet?

Posted by: Mick at February 20, 2005 01:51 PM

Those are pretty sophomoric arguments. Note that that is not an ad hominem attack, because I am not insulting you personally. Implying that I want Kim Jong Il to have nukes is ad homimen, though.

Let me just run through it. There was not 90% support before the Gulf War. Please name your source. Country boundaries change in Africa fairly often and we don't do anything about it. Invading Iraq was not the only way to hold Saddam to account. If other countries were to stop taking us seriously any time a little schmuck get away with murder, they would have stopped taking us seriously a long time ago.

The alternative to 15,000 civilians dead (a lowball estimate) is not 300,000 civilians dead in the 40's, it is far less than 15,000 civilians dead in the present day. And please, don't forget the casualties of American citizens on our own side. You are the one making the allegation that the invasion means a net reduction in loss of life, name your source. Prove to me that Saddam would have killed more civilians over the same time period as we have. If you can manage it, prove to me that that number of additional civilians is worth the death of the number of American soldiers we have lost. Prove to me that continued torture and murder under the Baathists was the *only* possible other outcome for the future had we not invaded Iraq.

Prove to me that blackmailing China is the only way to deal with North Korea having nukes. Prove to me that if I don't support it, then it means I'm a commie-loving traitor that wants NK to drop a nuclear bomb on my own city while I'm living in it. I don't have to have a spelled out proposal in order to believe that there are better ways to handle that situation than attempting to bully a country with which we have a very delicate diplomatic relationship.

Posted by: tunesmith at February 20, 2005 02:25 PM

My source for the 90% approval from the Gulf War is from remembering what was on CNN when I was in high school. We took him on in Iraq with widespread approval from the very countries who oppose us now (Germany, France). My freshman room mate visited Egypt that summer and said being American was almost like being a celebrity, people were so happy for what we had done. Anyway, we both know that just because something's popular doesn't make it right, so that's besides the point.

I'm not calling you a commie loving traitor, because I can sympathise with your point of view, having been against the first Gulf War. I'm 31 now and I was 17 when the first Gulf War started and I was dead against it. First off, I didn't want to get drafted. Secondly, I had just read "All Quiet on the Western Front" which captured the hell of war in such graphic terms that it sickened me to watch people cheering on the troops. I knew what was happening behind all the fanfare.

I'm asking you some of the hard questions I've asked myself over the years which changed my mind.

Lacking the ability to travel into alternate Universes, I cannot PROVE that Saddam would killed more people than we have in Iraq. If I was a betting man, I'd put my money on it. Depending on who you believe, Saddam has put between 300,000 and 600,000 people into mass graves. The people who starved to death while he embezzled money meant to feed them from the UN should also be counted in that number. 25 years of rule, and 300,000 plus corpses to show for it. That's about 12 thousand unfortunate souls a year. We've been there two years and killed 15,000. Add to it 1300 Americans and we're not anywhere close to his average, and we won't be there 25 more years. Anyway, having clarified myself I realize what a shoddy argument the "body count" is. We compare favorably to a psychotic mass murderer! Whooo hoo! Body count is intrinsically an emotional argument, which is why we see "Support our troops, bring them Home ALIVE" bumper stickers. We lost 400,000 men in WWII and it was worth it. For a war that's not worth it, one dead body is too many. My real argument is that this war makes America safer and, thus, is worth it.

As far as attacking every little thug who kills people so we can be taken seriously, this particular little thug signed a cease fire agreement which he made a joke out of. He openly declared war on us and was waging it as best he could in his own little puny war by shooting at our planes in the no fly zone every day. Unless your point of view is "War is always wrong in every case, end of story" (which was mine in the early 1990s) why do you have a moral problem with attacking Iraq? Or do you just have a stetegic problem with it?

What is your moral objection to attacking North Korea to rid them of their nuclear program? I wasn't insulting you by asking if you had a problem with them having nukes -I'm not a regular reader of your blog, and belive it or not, there are Americans who have no problems with this whatsoever. Then there are Americans, who I suspect you number among, who would prefer he not have nukes, but its way far down on their list of priorities.

Maybe you should take another a look at your priorities if that's the case. It's real easy to feign shock and look agast at the idea of blackmailing China with the threat of using force against Kim Jong Il, but it's harder to come up with or support a workable solution. These are not pretty times we live in, my friends, and nuclear weapons in the hands of a maniacal Stalinist dictator is nobody's idea of a tea party.

Posted by: Mick Stone at February 20, 2005 03:41 PM

I was not in support of the first Gulf war before it happened. There are two variations of that question that are harder to answer, though. Would I have been in support of it had I had advance knowledge of how the first war would have turned out? I'm afraid I don't have the answer to that one. I do think I had good reason beforehand to be cynical about the possibility of some things happening that didn't happen, and I'm glad that common sense prevailed in some aspects of that war. I'm referring to the general category of things that Bush/Sowcroft(?) supported that the PNAC wing does not support.

The other variation is, with what I know now, would I have supported the first Gulf War? I have to admit that compared to this Iraq War, the first Gulf War seems pretty justified. And I do believe that a response was needed, obviously, to invading an American ally. I'm not a foreign policy expert, but I'm not ready to concede that the approach we took was the only possible response, and I think it's dishonest for someone, in debate, to suggest that if one was opposed to the first war, that they were then somehow by definition in support of Hussein occupying Kuwait. There's also the whole side issue of whether Hussein was manipulated (through intent or mere incompetence) into believing that we wouldn't object if he invaded Kuwait. That whole side story is just weird.

Under what grounds do you think that American interests are safer now from the aftereffects of the Iraq war? Please don't just respond with a "how could we NOT be with that tyrant no longer in power? are you saying you would prefer Saddam be in power?!" Factor in the new terrorist presence in Iraq, and the heightened anti-Americanism all throughout the middle east, which increases demand for terrorism against American interests.

Then the question becomes, was it possible to deal with the possible threat Iraq represented against the United States without creating that level of anti-American sentiment? I honestly believe it was very possible. I don't have a plan in mind, but the Bush administration hardly made the case that they fully considered other approaches other than the war.

I think Bush is the one who has displayed a lack of interest in NK having nukes. There's been a real lack of interest in engaging them in talks or multilateral negotiations.

Posted by: tunesmith at February 20, 2005 05:07 PM

Euthanasia: I'm not inherantly skeptical of statistics, but if you're going to buttress your arguments with mathematics, you need to show the math.

Posted by: Mick at February 20, 2005 09:53 PM


You sound like a white Southerner in 1965 who finds himself seated among black people.

and Perle's option on North Korea is definitely one on the table...yeah, no one wants to think about that kind of stuff, but sometimes it has to be done...I remember some president who bombed suspected WMD sites in Iraq in 1998 - I wonder if he was trying to send a message, too?

Posted by: Aaron at February 21, 2005 02:16 AM

"I think Bush is the one who has displayed a lack of interest in NK having nukes. There's been a real lack of interest in engaging them in talks or multilateral negotiations."

What are the 6 Party talks then? They are absolutely the best way to talk to North Korea.

Though to be honest, I think NO amount of negotiation or concession to North Korea will stop their bomb project. They already had a good deal from Clinton, which they immediately cheated on.

Kim is not interested in food aid. He eats fine. He's interested in POWER.

He's afraid of losing POWER - which means he is worried about two things:

a. US invasion.
b. Economic collapse followed by coups, assasination etc.

US and Perle prefer b. How do we get to b? We need China to turn off the oil taps.

Perle thinks threatening A will make China do B. Highly possible, but risky. I think Kim just helped us a lot by declaring his nukes and getting huffy. China doesn't want a nuclear Korea. So, I think we will see B implemented sooner than we think.

Posted by: Aaron at February 21, 2005 02:26 AM
You sound like a white Southerner in 1965 who finds himself seated among black people.

That's funny, I wasn't even close to thinking of feeling threatened by a bunch of black people. Why did that come to mind so easily for you?

Posted by: tunesmith at February 21, 2005 02:28 AM

Maybe it was bilateral talks I was thinking of. Oh well.

The debate is starting to get circular. I tried to make the point pretty clearly that was about the *demand* for terrorism. The Bushies are pretty good at figuring out ways to attack the supply of existing terrorist, but I don't really see the good of that if those same policies only increase the demand for new terrorism at the same time. The market will be met one way or another. The real way is to limit both the supply of terrorists AND the demand for terrorism. Of course then you'll get someone saying that that is trying to have your cake and eat it too.

Posted by: tunesmith at February 21, 2005 06:26 AM

Thanks for the comments. I can't find the debate in the C-SPAN archives. Probably a BushCo choice.

Did Saddam "pee" on the ceasefire agreement? He did disarm. At first he didn't believe it. For months he hemmed and hawed. Then he destroyed everything. Back in 1991. He tried to cover up what he knew (how to weaponize VX, for instance) and he tried to keep his scientist's notes (hidden under a chicken coop, found).

Was that the first time in history such a deal was brokered? A cease-fire disarmament with UN inspection? Yup. Did it work? He was disarmed and rendered harmless.

In fact, Saddam's last three years or so in power were some of his mildest, in terms of the political oppression.

If we had wanted to end political oppression and tyranny (and that has _never_ been our goal, don't fucking fool yourself), Saddam's Iraq would not have been on the top 10 list.

Posted by: Josh Narins at February 21, 2005 02:26 PM

I was at the debate as well and blogged about it, with some snark. I was way up on the second balcony in the back with all the hardcore libs. It was quite a raucous crowd back there, but fun. It was hard to hear Perle from where I was because there were a lot of boos and hisses going on around me.

Good coverage! I like your post.

Posted by: Sid at February 22, 2005 12:13 AM

Curt, thank you for the write up on the debate. I didn't get to go but your review was good enough. I love the ironic appropriateness of the seating split between those supporting the "right" and those supporting the "left". The real people up in the cheap seats and the richies from the right in the first rows. Nice.

A couple of corrections for Mick regarding his argument for war in Iraq. First, I can say it was refreshing to read a opposing post with out all caps and a bunch of whining. He should be commended for that.

I was in the Air Force for four years and served two tours in Saudi Arabia under Operation Southern Watch. Sadam did shoot at our patrol jets a couple of times in response to some warning bombings ordered under the Clinton Administration when warranted. They were not shot at on a daily basis and surely were not taunted. This negates two points of Mick's: 1)Sadam was not in control we were always there and watching. 2)Claiming he was shooting at our jets (as if it happened every day) is just false. I was there I know!

The other argument Mick made and I have heard time and time again is the comparison between support for gulf war I compared to II. The REASON we went to war with Iraq the first time was at the request of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. We did (mostly) the right thing there. Truth be told if Kuwait didn't have oil we probably would not have been involved.

To make the claims about the danger of Iraq post 9/11 is asinine in my view. He could only operate in 1/3 of his country. He was monitored 24/7. He had few friendly foreign relations. This was a man living in a box... a box on top of one of the largest oil reserves in the world.

By the way if you want to talk about harbors for terrorists look no further than Saudi Arabia! The ruling class loves us. Most of the other 70% of the country hate us and think we are all infidels. The fact that we exists isn't the problem. The problem is, as they see it, that we keep exporting our culture to their country.

I could go on and on but I should probably get some work done now. Props to Mick for keeping the debate a debate but he needs to get his info somewhere other than Fox "news".

Posted by: ken at February 22, 2005 02:07 PM
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