Rosa Brooks: the Opinion L.A. chat

(Lightly edited for some grammar and question-order).Moderator1: Hi everybody, this is Tim Cavanaugh. We’ve got Rosa Brooks for the hour.

Rosa Brooks: Hi Tim!

Rosa Brooks: It’s good to be here.

Moderator1: Let’s start off with a question we got from the mail:

Rosa Brooks: OK

Moderator1: “What are her thoughts on hillary’s statement on keeping troops in iraq until ’09?”

Rosa Brooks: I think Hillary wants to have it both ways.

Rosa Brooks: That does not, alas, make her unusual. The situtation in Iraq is awful, and there are no good solutions, but everyone keeps wanting to pretend that there are.

Rosa Brooks: She’s trying to show, at one and the same time, that she a) hears what people are saying about wanting to end the war, and b) hears that people are worried about the situation getting worse.

Rosa Brooks: I’m not necessarily opposed to seeing us keep some troops there -- but I think we need to be very clear, far clearer than she has been, about under what circumstances we would keep troops and why and for how long and what purposes.


Rosa Brooks: Ironically, the one thing that I think a lot of Democrats worry about is the one thing she rules out having US troops do: stop ethnic cleansing, if it continues/increases.

Rosa Brooks: I am not at all convinced that we would be able to play a useful role, which is why I’m a somewhat ambivalent supporter of a phased redeployment/withdrawal. But I sure think that if there was evidence that US troops *could* stop/halt ethnic cleansing, that would be a good reason to keep troops there.

Moderator1: What do you make of the constitutional issues involved as the Congress tries to take a more active role in managing the war?

Rosa Brooks: The constitutional issues.... I think Congress very clearly has the constitutional power to pull the plug on funding and to tell the President that most troops must be brought home.

Rosa Brooks: The President’s commander in chief power does not give him carte blanche, as many Republicans appear to be claiming. He’s the executive: he executes. But he is supposed to execute the law.

Rosa Brooks: He has a constitutional duty to do what he considers necessary to defend the country in an emergency of some sort -- Congress could not, for instance, pass legislation telling him not to deploy troops *anywhere* without prior approval, because that would clearly interfere with his constitutional rights and duties.

Rosa Brooks: But as far as Iraq goes ... that war has been going on for four years, and at this point it’s certainly Congress’ prerogative to say, “this is *not* advancing US national security and you have to end it.”

Moderator1: There’s a long history of extraconstitutional behavior by wartime presidents. What do you make of the idea that the reason declaring war is supposed to be hard specifically because wartime was considered to be an anything-goes, by-any-means-necessary period?

Rosa Brooks: I don’t understand the question. Could you clarify?

Rosa Brooks: Do you mean, it’s supposed to be hard to declare war up front, because once you’re in, there’s not much you can do to stop the president if you don’t like what he’s doing?

Moderator1: Exactly: by making a high bar for declaring war, you recognize that the constitution won’t necessarily apply when there’s an existential threat to the country.

FatMan: Isn’t the idea of “declaring war” a little passe?

Moderator1: I should point out that Randolph Bourne was right: Put to the iron test of reality, the democratic path to war is not substantially different from or rarer than the despotic path to war.

Rosa Brooks: Um, I don’t think there *is* an existential threat to the country right now. There is a *threat* -- there are many threats -- but I don’t think there is an existential one.

Rosa Brooks: But I take the point. Yes, “declaring war” is more than a little passe: it’s also virtually legally irrelevant at this point.

Rosa Brooks: And, as we see, in practice once there is a war, Congress and the courts are unlikely to do much about it even if they are very unhappy with the president. In practice, unpopular wars in democracies end only because presidents face elections.

FatMan: Do any of the candidates really think s/he can resolve the Iraq mess or do they figure this is simply the most wide open race they’ll see in the next few election cycles?

Rosa Brooks: Fatman -- no, I don’t think anyone thinks we can “resolve” the Iraq mess.

Rosa Brooks: This is an amazingly wide open race, though. Whoever wins will still have to deal with Iraq in 2009, and it won’t be good.

Rosa Brooks: I do think we need to expand the conversation beyond Iraq, though: what happens in Iraq is important (to the Iraqis, not least!), but there are a lot of other issues out there, too, and a lot of other threats. Right now, Iraq is sucking up all the oxygen.

Moderator1: Here’s another one from the mail:

Moderator1: “she’s written a lot about torture; is there any ticking timebomb case she’d be OK with allowing it?”

Rosa Brooks: Ticking bombs.... good question. I have written a lot about that, including in my non LAT life.

scareduck: My, but it’s quiet in here. You can even hear an opinion drop!

Rosa Brooks: too true!

Rosa Brooks: I am going to take the relative silence as a sign of complete agreement with all my opinions.

Moderator1: OK then: Is there an acceptable ticking-time-bomb scenario?

Rosa Brooks: Ticking bombs... basically I think the hypothetical is irrelevant.

Moderator1: Any situation where torture would be acceptable?

Rosa Brooks: Because in practice, the odds of a true ticking bomb scenario are insanely low, as most terrorism and interrogation experts agree

Rosa Brooks: (and by the way, neither John Yoo nor Alan Dershowitz are interrogation or terrorism experts).

Moderator1: No but anybody who’s listened to his show knows Dersh is an expert at torturing people.

scareduck: And what happened to Dershowitz, anyway? Didn’t he used to be an ACLU lawyer?

Rosa Brooks: But in fact -- and I have said this in print -- yeah, sure, if there was actually a true ticking bomb scenario, I can imagine using torture. If I were the person in charge, I mean. But frankly, I can also imagine doing all kinds of other illegal and immoral things, under sufficient pressure.

Rosa Brooks: And every now and then, maybe my decision to do something illegal and immoral would seem, in hindsight, to have been the right thing to do.

Rosa Brooks: But the law can’t function by giving advance approval to things that are virtually always the wrong thing to do: the system falls apart.

Rosa Brooks: The “externalities,” as my economist friends say, of legalizing torture would be huge and negative. Actually, they already have been.

Moderator1: Any thoughts on torture porn?

Rosa Brooks: Torture porn?

Rosa Brooks: What kind of stuff do you look at, Tim?

Moderator1: We have a couple people waiting to be heard, but I’m talking about 24, Saw, Captivity, Hostel, etc. Mainstream stuff.

scareduck: He means “24", shows that explicitly use the ticking bomb scenario as a blanket justification for torture.

Rosa Brooks: Oh, that kind of torture porn.... !

Rosa Brooks: The thing about the ticking bomb scenrio is that it’s a red herring: it scares people into thinking we need to reconsider laws against torture. We don’t.

scareduck: Do you believe we’ll eventually find a chain of evidence linking Lyndie England (say) to Cheney and/or Rumsfeld?

Rosa Brooks: Lyndie England et al and Cheney Rumsfeld...

Rosa Brooks: probably not, in the Abu Ghraib instance, at least not some kind of smoking gun memo.

Rosa Brooks: I don’t think we will discover a memo from Cheney that says, “Tell every soldier to beat up and humiliate Iraqi detainees.”

FatMan: The ACLU doesn’t even respect the CL of its own f’ing members

Rosa Brooks: That said, I think the chain of evidence is already there demonstrating links between the Administration authorization of “enhanced” interrogation and actual abuses. We know that waterboarding, for instance, was explicitly okay for “high value” detainees. One of these days, the memo listing specific techniques authorized for the CIA will come out ... probably signed by GWB!

scareduck: Well, maybe not, but the testimony so far has been that individuals received orders to use, uh, non-standard interrogation methods.

scareduck: Will there be a Bush impeachment before his term expires?

Rosa Brooks: Probably not.

Rosa Brooks: Not because it would be legally unmerited, but because Congress almost certainly won’t touch it.

Rosa Brooks: Yeah. I actually think there is ample legal basis for GWB to be impeached. I just don’t think it’s gonna happen.

Rosa Brooks: And frankly, I am not too bothered by that.... I think it would be divisive and since he’s a lame duck, there are probably more important things to do.

Rosa Brooks: History will judge.... I actually do believe that, and the judgment will be harsh.

Moderator1: Speaking of history, from the mailbag:

Moderator1: “It’s the year 2040. The George W. Bush presidency is treated to a wave of historical reassessment and appreciation, like all presidents eventually are. On what issue will he be hailed for then that he isn’t now?”

Rosa Brooks: Gee, that’s a tough one!

Rosa Brooks: Actually, I know the answer.

Rosa Brooks: Space exploration!

Moderator1: You gotta be kidding!

Rosa Brooks: No kidding. This is the one GWB initiative that I was 100% behind.

Rosa Brooks: I want to be an astronaut.

Rosa Brooks: Face it, we’ve really messed up this planet beyond repair. If we don’t find a new one to exploit, the human race is screwed.

scareduck: Space exploration? Good grief, the government can’t find $200M to back Robert Bussard and his ICF fusion box, but they’re spending billions in future budgets to go to Mars?

scareduck: “Beyond repair,” Rosa? Care to justify that?

Rosa Brooks: Oops -- technical glitch, I was bounced off for a minute.

Moderator1: In space, we call that an EVA.

Rosa Brooks: Sorry -- I may have lost the thread here.

Rosa Brooks: “Beyond repair” -- I do not think we will summon up the political will to seriously slow climate change, for instance.

Rosa Brooks: We are running out of non-rebewable resources.

Rosa Brooks: That was supposed to be “renewable,” by the way.

Rosa Brooks: I did not take typing, ever, and actually cannot type. I use three fingers.

Rosa Brooks: to hunt and peck.

scareduck: Seriously? Good grief, with peak oil production coming up in the next few years, I don’t see how we can *not* make changes in our energy diet.

Rosa Brooks: Why do you assume that this country, or enough others, will have any common sense whatsoever?

scareduck: “Common sense” will be drilled into people’s heads at $100/bbl oil.

Rosa Brooks: Actually, even aside from the question of whether we need to explore space to survive, I’m still very pro-space exploration. I find it very sad that as a nation, we’ve more or less abandoned the project of finding out more about what’s out there.

Moderator1: From the mail:

Moderator1: “What presidents have you voted for in your lifetime?”

Rosa Brooks: I’m only 19. I’ve never voted for president.

Rosa Brooks: No, seriously. Guess!

Moderator1: I’ll take a stab: In reverse order: Kerry, Gore, Nader, Clinton, Dukakis (or was it Kakdukis?)

Rosa Brooks: I will say that I encountered a tragic, and possibly illegal, voting loophole recently...

Rosa Brooks: Nope, never Nader.

Moderator1: The rest correct? Where you old enough to vote in 88?

Rosa Brooks: But my sad voting story: I moved from VA to NY right before the election. It turned out that you have to register about six weeks in advance in NY, but you can’t register before you are a resident ... but meanwhile, you can’t vote in VA once you are no longer a resident. So I actaully could not vote. I fought with the registration office in both states ... and finally decided that if I get fired from all my current jobs I will dedicate all my energies to litigating.

Rosa Brooks: In the meantime, I will just whine about it.

scareduck: When you’re done with the “who did I vote for” thread ... have you been following at all the blogosphere’s role (Talking Points in particular) in following up on the AG firing fracas?

Rosa Brooks: A little -- but is there something in particular about Talking Points?

Rosa Brooks: What are the bloggers up to, those devils?

scareduck: Not especially, just that JMM was on top of it ... it was nice to see Jay Carney at Time give him a nod. On a related note, do you think we have a new AG within the year?

Rosa Brooks: Got me. The inner workings of GWB’s mind, if any, are mysterious to me. Of course, he fired Rumsfeld only a day or so after expressing total confidence in him, so who knows what will happen to Gonzalez?

Moderator1: Who’s your favorite Republican and Democrat running for president?

Rosa Brooks: Barack Obama!

Rosa Brooks: Republican ... I don’t know. For a while I was liking John McCain.

Rosa Brooks: But, like a whole lot of others, I’ve been pretty disenchanted with him lately.

scareduck: But what is Obama save for an empty vessel? I don’t mean that he’s necessarily vacant, but that because he’s had to take very few policy stands, people don’t have something to hate him for. Yet.

Rosa Brooks: Re Obama: if you haven’t read his first book -- Dreams of My father -- I recommend it. I was sort of skeptical of the Obama phenomenon at first: it was just too much hype. But after reading his book I became a big fan.

Rosa Brooks: True, but as I wrote in a column a couple of months ago, he’s done much more than he gets credit for.

scareduck: I suppose I should, but given the lackluster review Matt Welch gave McCain’s book, I’m not sure I want to spend any time reading presidential candidates’ books ... not that that makes any sense....

Rosa Brooks: And it’s interesting to note that for better or for worse, the joint democratic Iraq resolution voted down yesterday was basically a watered down version of Obama’s own resolution. It was worse than his: both less flexible and less concrete. But what this points to is that though he has less “experience,” the Dems have been coalescing around his policy positions.

Moderator1: What websites do you read every day?

Rosa Brooks: Websites...

Rosa Brooks: I look at the major newspapers, CNN, Fox, Thinkprogress, Washington Monthly, Huffington Post, Real Clear Politics, Wonkette....

Rosa Brooks: Lots of stuff. I spend a lot of time aimless surfing.

Rosa Brooks: I’ll tell you the single best thing about writing a column for the LAT.

Rosa Brooks: (well, okay, maybe not the single best thing)

Rosa Brooks: I’ve always wasted a lot of time surfing the web, procrastinating. But once I started writing the column, all that websurfing was magically transformed into ... research!

Moderator1: Which political commentators do you enjoy whose politics you abhor?

Rosa Brooks: I actually like my LAT colleague Jonah Goldberg. I disagree with 90% of what he says, but he’s lively and provokative and often funny.

Rosa Brooks: Provocative.

Rosa Brooks: I also can’t spell.

Moderator1: What’s the most common misconception readers have about you -- other than that you’re a good speller?

Rosa Brooks: Hmm.

Rosa Brooks: I don’t have a very interesting answer to that question.

Rosa Brooks: But I am always amazed how many people assume that columnists -- maybe just me -- don’t actually do any research! When I write, I try very hard to make sure I am right about the facts....

Rosa Brooks: But I always get emails from people who seem to think I’ve just made it all up. As you know, Tim, there is fact-checking!

Moderator1: OK, a tough one from the mail:

Moderator1: “You seem to be against the Iraq War. But were you against Kosovo, too? Didn’t Iraq have more international (i.e. UN) legitimacy than Kosovo ever did? Also, what wars *have* you supported over the years?”

Rosa Brooks: Kosovo.... I supported the Kosovo intervention.

Rosa Brooks: You’re correct that Kosovo did not have UN approval, and I agree that UN approval is not the be-all and end-all here.

Rosa Brooks: I think that both urgent national security considerations and urgent humanitarian considerations can trump having Security Counsil approval.

Rosa Brooks: I just don’t think the Iraq War was justified by either.

Moderator1: There’s been a lot of talk lately about whether neoliberalism is dead. True? False? Who cares?

Rosa Brooks: Who cares? I never understood what the word meant, anyway.

Moderator1: Bush: Worse, or better, than Nixon?

Rosa Brooks: Worse. Worse. Worse. Worse than anyone, ever.

Moderator1: Name something “everybody knows” to be true, but isn’t.

Rosa Brooks: If you were a character in the Wizard of Oz, would you be Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Wizard, the Tinman, or the Cowardly Lion?

Rosa Brooks: Everyone thinks you learn something interesting by posing questions like that. They’re wrong.

Moderator1: Do you think the White House really thought Saddam had WMD?

Rosa Brooks: No.

Rosa Brooks: I don’t think they were 100% convinced that he did *not* have WMD, but I think they knew it was doubtful. I think they just didn’t care, because the decision to go to war with Iraq had already been made and it was based on other imperatives.

Moderator1: Such as?

Rosa Brooks: Desire to flex their muscle; desire to keep up the post 9/11 momentum (I did support military action in Afghanistan, btw); desire to “finish what was started” in Gulf War One, weird Oedipal stuff ... take your pick. I don’t think it was a very rational decision.

scareduck: Anyway, I should probably scamper off to get some lunch. Nice talking to you, Rosa, and I look forward -- and I’m not just saying that, either -- to reading your pieces in the Times.

Rosa Brooks: Thank you -- bye!

Moderator1: And I think we need to wrap it up too. Thanks a lot to Rosa and to everybody who participated here and by email. Tune in next week as we put the mysterious Robert Greene into the hot seat!

Rosa Brooks: Bye.

Paul: Is the party over by now?

Rosa Brooks: And what a party it was!

Moderator1: Seacrest OUT!