Belmont Club

The joker's wild

Five writers imagine the day after somebody wins the election. Some imagine an Obama victory, others a McCain win. One writer imagined that neither did, not really. “I thought I was the only one, but later, on the news, they’d reported I wasn’t, that thousands of us had turned in blank ballots, unable, finally, to cast a vote for a world whose rules we didn’t know.”

But the world is unlikely to stop after the elections. Prospect Magazine describes the continuing momentum for a “league of democracies”, an idea primarily associated with John McCain but with some support in the Obama camp. On the day after elections, whoever wins, the regular to and fro of policy debate will continue, some of it with support on both sides of the aisle.

The provenance of any proposal is no reason for its adoption—or rejection—but I would note that Madeleine Albright was an advocate of an alliance of democracies in the 1990s, and since 9/11 its principal authors have been Ivo Daalder, a senior adviser to Barack Obama, James Lindsay, a former NSC official in the Clinton administration, the Republican nominee for the presidency, John McCain and one of his senior advisers, Robert Kagan. This bipartisan support may be simply a function of different conceptions of the same concept, but it is indicative at least of the broad interest in such an idea in the US.

But the culture wars won’t stop either. Bing West believes that some people who claim the citizenship and protection of their countries have crossed the line from the other point of view simply to the other side. Criticizing Nir Rosen’s decision to embed with the Taliban, West wrote in the Small Wars Journal that:

“I am a guest of the Taliban.” Rosen wrote. Supposing in 1944 he had written, “I am a guest of the Waffen SS.” It is doubtful if Rolling Stone would have published Rosen’s article during World War II. The norms and values of American society have changed enormously in the past half-century.

Yet had Rosen been captured by Afghan soldiers, it is likely Rolling Stone magazine would have asked the US military to intercede for his release. But if the reporter has no obligation toward the soldier, does the soldier have the obligation to protect the journalist? Should Rosen, if captured, have been released or put on trial for aiding or abetting the enemy?

Rosen replied to West in comments, but despite his tone I am not sure whether he doesn’t reinforce the salience Bing West’s original question. Rosen wrote in cool lower caps:

objections to my article have been silly so far. i’m a journalist, not an american journalist. my job is not to serve as a propagandist for anybody, just to tell stories and my advantage is that i can tell stories that are hard to come by … does any of this have to do with mr west’s vietnam generation being bitter about losing vietnam and blaming their failure in vietnam on the media? i’m sorry you lost vietnam. for what its worth, i wasnt born yet and has not the US administration now recognized that the taliban must be negotiated with? just as they ended up negotiating with the iraqi resistance? i came under similar criticism for spending time with the resistance in falluja, but now those guys are on the US payroll. … some of you people take this war too personally. this is not good vs evil, its much more ambiguous, and if anything you should be grateful for my work, for the light it sheds on your opponents

Does that make Rosen a spy on the Taliban? Isn’t providing information that may be useful to the useful to the US military aiding and abetting the coalition? Or maybe those categories of thought, like sides in a war, don’t exist any more. Hey, it’s only a job. I’m just the piano player. It’s not personal, it’s business. The trouble is that everyone can say that. If we do get the premier league of democracies, what are the ideological requirements for membership if ideas don’t matter any more?