Stephen Speicher

Tracinski on Editorial Page of Wall Street Journal

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Rob Tracinski has an editorial on the Iraq Study Group in the Editorial page of today's Wall Street Journal. Congratulations, Rob!

Captain Obvious to the Rescue

The problem with the Iraq Study Group.

BY ROBERT TRACINSKI

Tuesday, December 12, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

In my student days back at the University of Chicago, there was a campus comedy troupe modeled on Second City, their more well-known uptown uncle. The U of C group was pretty funny, if in a somewhat bookish way. (Who else does a comedy routine based on "Oedipus Rex"?) One of their funniest bits was a recurring skit about a superhero named Captain Obvious. In each scene, a character would face a mundane problem, only to be "saved" by the banal and utterly unhelpful advice offered by Captain Obvious. "I've locked my keys in my car. What am I going to do?" "Well then," replies Captain Obvious, "all you have to do is open the door to your car, and then you can get your keys." Each scene ended the same way, with Captain Obvious proclaiming, "No, don't thank me. It's all in a day's work for Captain Obvious.

I've been reminded of this skit many times since, because I frequently hear the same kind of advice being given in Washington. Take, for example, the recommendations offered, to much fanfare, by the Iraq Study Group.

The problem in Iraq is that we can't withdraw U.S. troops because the Iraqi military is not adequately trained to maintain security on its own? Well then, the ISG tells us, all we need to do is to train the Iraqi military so that they can maintain security on their own, and then we can withdraw our troops.

The problem in Iraq is that the Iraqi government won't approve a crackdown to dismantle the Shiite militias? Well then, all we have to do is to convince the Iraqi government to approve a crackdown to dismantle the Shiite militias.

The problem in Iraq is that Iran and Syria are arming, funding, and encouraging Sunni and Shiite insurgents? Well then, all we have to do is to convince Syria and Iran to stop supporting these insurgents.

The problem in the region is that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict inflames anti-American sentiment? Well then, all we have to do is to convene a conference to negotiate peace in the Middle East.

See how simple that was? It's amazing that no one ever thought of these ideas before the Iraq Study Group came along. But no, don't thank them. It's all in a day's work for Captain Obvious.

Few have recognized the empty banality of the ISG report because they have focused on a few seemingly radical recommendations. But all of these recommendations are conditional on events that are unlikely to happen, as became clear in Thursday's press conference with the members of the commission.

We should withdraw all U.S. combat troops by early 2008, ISG co-chair Lee Hamilton tells us, "subject to unexpected developments on the ground"--such as the fact that the troops will still be needed. Similarly, we will shift troops from fighting the enemy to training the Iraqi military "if the commanders in place determine that's the best way to do it," according to commission member William Perry. Pressed on the subject of whether Iran would be willing to help us in Iraq, co-chair James Baker replies, "In our discussions with them--and the report points this out--we didn't get the feeling that Iran is champing at the bit to come to the table with us to talk about Iraq. And in fact, we say we think they very well might not."

There you have it: a series of recommendations based on conditions that "very well might not" happen.

The whole ISG report is a spectacular punt. It contains a few broad, vague goals for our policy--and a whole range of specific recommendations for actions that are not in the power of the American government to take. It recommends, for example, that the Iraqi government "accelerate assuming responsibility for Iraqi security by increasing the number and quality of Iraqi Army Brigades," that the Iranian government "use its influence over Iraqi Shiite groups to encourage national reconciliation" and that the Syrian government "stem the flow of funding, insurgents, and terrorists in and out of Iraq."

The members of the commission certainly hope that these governments will take those actions. But then again, they very well might not.

What the ISG offers us are mere aspirations, with no serious consideration of the concrete means required to fulfill those aspirations.

We should negotiate with Iran and Syria to convince them to help stabilize Iraq, but then James Baker angrily denies that this would mean caving in and allowing Iran to continue its nuclear weapons program, and he angrily denies that it would mean caving in and allowing Syria to re-conquer Lebanon. In other words, he wants to ask Iran and Syria to help us in Iraq--while ruling out the only concessions that might induce them to do so. At the same time, the ISG also rules out any serious military threat that would force Iran and Syria to abandon their current strategy.

This is the pattern of the whole report: to stipulate the achievement of a result, while denying the actual means that might achieve that result.

When you desire a result without enacting the means for achieving it, that's called a "fantasy" which is ironic, considering that James Baker is a dean of the "realist" school of foreign policy.

For the original Captain Obvious, the final punch-line comes when he rescues a philosopher who is struggling to prove that the world really exists--the one problem Captain Obvious is perfectly equipped to solve. Perhaps someone ought to provide the same service for the "realists" on the Iraq Study Group.

A real change in policy for Iraq wouldn't start and end with a collection of vague aspirations. It would start with a clear-eyed, realistic assessment of the facts that explain the chaos in Iraq--the facts that explain why all of the aspirations stated by the Iraq Study Group have not yet been met.

The basic fact is that the conflict in Iraq, from the very beginning, has been stoked by Syria and Iran. These dictatorial regimes are stoking the conflict because the success of the American mission in Iraq is an obvious threat to their very existence. They can't afford the example of a free nation in the region, nor can they afford the example of a successful exertion of American power on their doorsteps.

That's why all the debate over whether Iraq is in a "civil war" is beside the point. Calling Iraq a "civil war" has the effect of narrowing our focus, making the conflict look like a purely internal fight between Iraqi factions. But the real picture is regional. The civil strife in Iraq is just the instrument of a regional fight for dominance between Iran and the United States.

Recognizing this reality would produce some truly interesting and radical recommendations.

Since Iran and Syria are the most important source of the chaos in Iraq, then we need to topple those regimes. They won't agree to help us, because doing so does not and never will serve their interests. So we have to replace them with governments that do share our interests--or at least, with governments that will stay out of our way.

Then, since the Shiite militias are the leading edge of Iranian influence in Iraq, we have to act to dismantle them now--and not wait for approval from the Iraqi government. We should grasp that the Iraqi government's approval and disapproval on this issue simply doesn't matter, because if we don't take down the militias, there will be no Iraqi government left.

Instead of pointing to the bad results in Iraq and simply declaring that we must achieve better results--which is all that the ISG report really amounts to--we have to identify the real root of the problem: the regimes in Iran and Syria, and the Shiite militias they support. And then we need to dig up that root.

We'll know we're really making progress in talking about Iraq when that recommendation is seen as being as obvious as it really is.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at TIADaily.com. He is the editor of The Intellectual Activist and TIADaily.com.

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That's an excellent article by Tracinski.

That's why all the debate over whether Iraq is in a "civil war" is beside the point. Calling Iraq a "civil war" has the effect of narrowing our focus, making the conflict look like a purely internal fight between Iraqi factions. But the real picture is regional. The civil strife in Iraq is just the instrument of a regional fight for dominance between Iran and the United States.

I like this observation and the one about them being engaged in "fantasy". The "Iraqi Study Group" has been much maligned, but Tracinski here wrote an article that is an effective and much deserved piling on. He just might get people to change their perspective with such a well-written, prominently-published article.

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Great article. Very well written and argued. Plus, he's right! :D

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Will this appear in the print edition too?

Yes, supposedly so. At least, that is my understanding. Perhaps someone who gets the print edition of the WSJ can verify with certainty.

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From ARI website:

Robert W. Tracinski is no longer associated with the Ayn Rand Institute--neither as a writer nor as a speaker.

:D

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From ARI website:

Robert W. Tracinski is no longer associated with the Ayn Rand Institute--neither as a writer nor as a speaker.

:D

On which page did you find this? I don't see it.

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:D

On which page did you find this? I don't see it.

The note is placed under Mr. Tracinski's articles.

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Good editorial!

From ARI website:

:D

I was just reading an article on ARI by him tonight, and noticed the blurb as well. Kind of makes me want to start referring to myself as a "non Denominational" objectivist. It has been become very clear to me, personally, over the past 6 to 7 months that being "approved" by this group or that isn't how one should rate a writer, but to do so by reading the article itself and taking things into consideration apart from any "official" Objectivist group.

I don't necessarily agree with everything he has written, but he has written some great articles, and, honestly, I don't think he really needs any kind of association with ARI to continue to be read.

(Please note: I am not anti-ARI at all; I hope this post doesn't give that impression.)

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Good editorial!

I was just reading an article on ARI by him tonight, and noticed the blurb as well. Kind of makes me want to start referring to myself as a "non Denominational" objectivist. It has been become very clear to me, personally, over the past 6 to 7 months that being "approved" by this group or that isn't how one should rate a writer, but to do so by reading the article itself and taking things into consideration apart from any "official" Objectivist group.

I don't necessarily agree with everything he has written, but he has written some great articles, and, honestly, I don't think he really needs any kind of association with ARI to continue to be read.

(Please note: I am not anti-ARI at all; I hope this post doesn't give that impression.)

I understand your position perfectly. Since I have no knowledge of what has gone on in Rob Tracinski's split from ARI, my comments below are general in nature.

These rifts don't do any of us good. It does not speak well for what we believe in, to see such public disassociations. We are proponents of a philosophy of reason, yet outside observers may fairly ask why our ideas can be a solution to the worlds problems, when we can't agree among ourselves what is right. One answer is that there is a fear that Ayn Rand's ideas can be misinterpreted, and if that wrong view gains acceptance, it would be damage hard to reverse. So yes, one needs a guardian(s) to make sure her ideas are not hijacked and distorted for ulterior motives. The question is, at what point does quelling villains morph into stifling honest disagreement?

My own observation has been one of puzzlement at the lack of acceptance of those who see things differently. I speak of people who are also admirers of Ayn Rand, and not her enemy. Is there so little room for accepting human error / differences on either side, that we split into camps, who not only don't see themselves as having some common goal, but as enemies? I have contributed to the ARI since it's inception, and respect the work they do, but it pains me to see that we don't all pull together when we all profess to be on the same side.

If the fundamentals of Objectivism are agreed on, why so little give in the application? For example, if the way one votes, becomes a claimed determinant of his fundamental views, we are in trouble. I have little patience for this political bickering, and hope that one day the intellectuals in the Objectivist movement will rise above what divides them and concentrate on what unites them.

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Since I have no knowledge of what has gone on in Rob Tracinski's split from ARI, my comments below are general in nature. These rifts don't do any of us good. It does not speak well for what we believe in, to see such public disassociations.
Are you implicitly referring to the discontinued relationship between ARI and Mr. Tracinski when you use words such as "These rifts" and "such public dissociations"?

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Are you implicitly referring to the discontinued relationship between ARI and Mr. Tracinski when you use words such as "These rifts" and "such public dissociations"?

As I said, I don't know anything about this latest 'disassociation', but regardless, I have lost count of the conflicts going all the way back to 1968. Given the reaction to L.P.'s recent statements, I have been waiting for more "non-alignments". Whether Mr. Tracinski has taken issue, is something I don't know; there may be nothing to it. Just the possibility, has brought my focus on the problem of working together. I want to stress that while I may find myself more in tune with one camp than another, I prefer not to get into the politics of it, and to look at what we agree on rather than what we don't.

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is a video showing that at least someone out there gets the big picture. Maybe even the White House can understand exactly what to do with the Iraq Study Group after watching this.

Maybe.

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These rifts don't do any of us good. It does not speak well for what we believe in, to see such public disassociations. We are proponents of a philosophy of reason, yet outside observers may fairly ask why our ideas can be a solution to the worlds problems, when we can't agree among ourselves what is right.

Objectivists are often criticized for their public break-ups, but I think being forthright when a relationship ends is the more honest approach. Reality demands an unflinching dedication to the truth, including the fact that some relationships deserve to end.

In my opinion, Tracinski has publicly embraced a theory of history that rejects the importance of Objectivism and principled consistency in defining and defending the long term good . As such, it would be dishonest to claim that he continues to be a public advocate for Ayn Rand's philosophy. If the end of Tracinski's association with ARI was brought on by his recent thinking, I am glad for it, for it would be an honest conclusion.

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Mr. Tracinski has not spoken at an ARI event nor wrote an article for ARI for a few years, although the addition to his articles on ARI's site stating the disassociation is new.

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In my opinion, Tracinski has publicly embraced a theory of history that rejects the importance of Objectivism and principled consistency in defining and defending the long term good .

Whose long term good?

Lady Brin

---------------------

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is a video showing that at least someone out there gets the big picture. Maybe even the White House can understand exactly what to do with the Iraq Study Group after watching this.

Maybe.

I have seen the disgusting pictures of Chamberlain with Hitler before, but this is the first time that I saw actual footage of Chamberlain waving the signed papers around. The connection between those events and today are really striking.

That video was added to YouTube just yesterday, and it has had over 213,000 viewings already. In fact, according to the "Honors" ratings, it is the most viewed video today in all categories! That's impressive, and hopeful, considering the positive ratings the video received.

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I agree that it is honest and desirable for ARI to disassociate with anybody with whom they do not want as a public representative of Objectivism. I agree with it referring to examples from the past (Reisman, etc.), and, if that is their choice, their present decision too.

Now, whether I agree that their speciofic reason for disassociating with somebody is another matter. If their split with Tracinski was an amicable matter of different career directions, obligations, etc., then that's fine by me.

But if their split with Tracinski is reflective of a policy of you're-evil-if-you-don't-a-straight-Democratic-ticket-this-November, well, then, not only do I not approve, but I would fear ARI has some unstable hands on their steering wheel.

For example, some (not associated with ARI) have suggested that Tracinski has embraced a theory of history that rejects Objectivism. To condemn Tracinski for a misrepresentation of his ideas is unjust. If ARI is committing some variation of this, I cannot support them. Obviously, a simple disassociation implies little. I'll keep my eyes peeled for some elaboration.

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Here is the full verbiage following any of Tracinski's article:

"Robert W. Tracinski is no longer associated with the Ayn Rand Institute--neither as a writer nor as a speaker. The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. If you are interested in posting or reprinting any of Mr. Tracinski's columns, contact Creators Syndicate at creators@aol.com. COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC. "

At first I thought the line following the first was provocative (as if to say "The Institute promotes the philosophy of Ayn Rand, in contrast to Mr. Tracinski..."), but then I notice that the same line follows *every* writer's intro. Further, ARI re-directs readers to Creators Syndicate for copyright details. I would think they are not obliged to re-direct like this. But I don't know.

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I agree that it is honest and desirable for ARI to disassociate with anybody with whom they do not want as a public representative of Objectivism. I agree with it referring to examples from the past (Reisman, etc.), and, if that is their choice, their present decision too.

Now, whether I agree that their speciofic reason for disassociating with somebody is another matter. If their split with Tracinski was an amicable matter of different career directions, obligations, etc., then that's fine by me.

But if their split with Tracinski is reflective of a policy of you're-evil-if-you-don't-a-straight-Democratic-ticket-this-November, well, then, not only do I not approve, but I would fear ARI has some unstable hands on their steering wheel.

All that is known is what was explictly stated by ARI, namely "Robert W. Tracinski is no longer associated with the Ayn Rand Institute--neither as a writer nor as a speaker." We should not be speculating here about people's motives. If there are unanswered questions, you can always write to ARI for clarification.

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For my own part, I'll emphasize that I was not speculating about anybody's motives. Thus the "if"s and "whether"s, etc.

I have written to ARI asking for elaboration about their dissasociation with Tracinski. If their response is interesting, I'll report it here. I've also written to Tracinski with the same question.

But all these details aside, here is why I find these issues interesting or important:

As advocates of Objectivism, I'm sure all of us here have been subjected to being misrepresented. Because we oppose the welfare state, we must wish for the widespread death of the poor; or, because we oppose minimum wage legislation, we therefore must advocate salve labor camps full of children with whip-weilding overlords snacking on puppies. Etc. You get the idea. In fact, long ago, when I was becoming insterested in Rand, my interest was further propelled by the outrageous misrepresentations of her by her critics. Ideas this badly mangled, I thought, must be touching a nerve.

Anyway, fast-forwarding to the present, I have been intrigued by the hostility aimed at Tracinski, and the misrepresentation of his ideas recently. I know of two prominent (if amateur) Objectivists who have actually called him *evil*. I have searched (to the extent feasible) for the reasons behind this, including asking those hostile to him exactly why they are (the results consisting of being ignored or largely disregarded).

So my mind's file folder is still open on this issue. Is Tracinski guilty of something that isn't common knowledge yet, and we, his defenders, are going to be blindsided by something already known by the "he's-evil" crowd? Or is there something behind the scenes contributing to a misrepresetation of his ideas? Or...

Considering my present knowledge, I'd like to publicly commend Rob Tracinski. His writing continues to be top quality and his TIA and TIA Daily represent excellent values.

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