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Resolve, Doubt and Flip-Flopping

One of John F. Kerry's better one-liners during his presidential campaign in 2004 was: "It's one thing to be certain, but you can be certain and wrong." On December 24, 2006 he picked up on this issue in his Washington Post op-ed "When Resolve Turns Reckless":
There's something much worse than being accused of "flip-flopping": refusing to flip when it's obvious that your course of action is a flop. I say this to President Bush as someone who learned the hard way how embracing the world's complexity can be twisted into a crude political shorthand.
Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute calls for flip-flopping as well ("dramatic change"), but his suggestions are very different from Kerry's: "Send more troops to Baghdad and we'll have a fighting chance" is the headline in his Sunday Times commentary.
Bertrand Russell's famous quote "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt" seems to be appropriate for the discussions about what to do in Iraq and for both liberal and conservative politicians and journalists.

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Anonymous on :

Funny. There are worse words to describe Bertrand Russell than 'cocksure'. Did that make him stupid?

David on :

Well, some of us were "cocksure" that a US invasion of Iraq would be a mistake of monumental proportions. For voicing that opinion we were (and are still,by some) reviled. Turns out we were right from the beginning, and most Americans now agree. Now it appears that Bush will compound his catastrophic mistake by escalating the war (again repeating the mistakes made in Vietnam).

Pat Patterson on :

"...The state of affairs[man's happiness], but what of it? Really high-minded people are indifferent to happiness, especially other people's". That Bertrand Russell?

2020 on :

Some players can't stop as long they have losses, especially when they told the world about their formidable strategies before. That's all too human. John Kerry smiles and pays. He's the real winner.

mbast on :

Kerry has a point. Only stupid people never change their mind. Another nice quote by a great Briton: "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject". Winston Churchill Problem is, though, that there is no easy way out of Iraq and that anybody who offers such an easy solution (like Mr. Kagan) should be deeply mistrusted IMO. Intelligent people might be full of doubt, but doubt is what makes you think twice about what you're doing and in some situations thinking about it twice before compounding your mistake can save the bacon.

Jeb on :

Interesting post, Joerg.

Don S on :

"Only stupid people never change their mind." And only shallow ones change it ever every 2 weeks - if not more frequently than that. Kerry never seemed to understand that you have to make a decision about policy and stick to it long enough to see whether it works or not. Arguably Bush's problem is the opposite - not changing when things go badly. But the Bush approach at least has a chance to work. Kerry may be a very intelligent man - but he was not a particularly accomplished Senator judging by his few accomplishments in the Senate. I think he may have been pursuing the Kennedy 'Rolling Stone' strategy as a Senator - but I think that only works for very brief Senatorial careers like those of JFK, John Edwards, and possibly Barak Obama. You can't do it for 18 years because people will ask what you did in that time. 'Bought a Ducati' is not an acceptable answer.....

Pinkerton on :

"And only shallow ones change it ever every 2 weeks - if not more frequently than that. Kerry never seemed to understand that you have to make a decision about policy and stick to it long enough to see whether it works or not." During the campaign for President, Kerry made his points very well. The problem was the media that used the Rove talking points and only took small sound bites from Kerry's speeches which made him look as though he was not being clear or constantly changing his mind. The so-called "flip-flopping" by Kerry was nothing more than a tool that was fabricated by the Republicans. If Don would have taken the time to actually research and read Kerry's speeches in their entirety, he would see this. In the meantime, Bush is still "sticking to his policy" of watching our soldiers losing limbs and dying in large numbers while he is "re-thinking" his policy. I can't think of one thing that George W. Bush has ever done in his life that was a success. There has always been someone who has had to clean up his messes after he was gone. This time he out-did himself, it will take years to get out of this mess in Iraq and years to clean up all the damage he has done to our country.

David on :

I voted for Kerry and worked for his campaign, but I'm afraid Don has a point about him. He never came out with a clear position on Iraq during the campaign. He turned out to be a weak candidate and managed to lose to the worst president in US history. I do hope Kerry stays out of the race this time. Meanwhile, Obama is generating much excitement. I think he's the real deal.

Pinkerton on :

How was anyone supposed to have a clear position on Iraq when they are being fed false information? Kerry and the rest of the Senate and Congress were given hyped up and outright lies regarding WMD. Kerry can't be blamed for decisions based on false or misleading information. Obama is a great guy, but should wait to run. He is too inexperienced and I still don't know all his positions. I do know that he voted for Condi Rice for Secretary of State, a mistake, IMO. I also know his name is on that horrible bankruptsy bill, another huge mistake. He may be a good speaker and a nice guy, but he's weak. I know nothing of his foreign policy either. He's got a long way to go and I think the US should learn from their mistakes of electing a smooth-talking, nice guy to be President. Remember all the idiots who said they voted for Bush because they thought he was the type of guy they thought they could sit and have a beer with? I have the feeling Bush would have stuck them with the bill, just like he stuck us with an enormous debt.

Moe Levine on :

The intelligent are not full of doubt about Irag, but they are smart enough to keep their thoughts to themselves. I suspect those thoughts include the following propositions. 1) Bush is an incompetent idiot and the only thing that can be said in his favor is that Iraq was a central geo--political issue. 2) Before we do anything we need to establish a policy toward Iraq and the rest of the Mid-East that will last for 300/400 years. (remember Churchill writing about as follows ... for 400 years the policy of the British gov't toward the continent of Europe has been) 3) In establishing that policy we need get rid of a lot of false assumptions, of which the foremost is that democracies don't go to war with each other. Our Civil War proved that proposition false and idiots like William Kristol should be shown the street. 4) In establishing that policy we need to get more honest about what would be acceptable costs. We deemed it acceptable to kill 600,000 to end slavery here. We kill 50,000 a year in highway deaths, many by DWI. 5) We need to understand that the removal of Saddam Hussein was merely a history accelerating event. The Shite/Sunni conflict was bound to happen. We just made it happen when we were unprepared for it. 6) As for what our policy should be, one could do worse than starting with Madison and his concern for the protection of minority rights. This was the reason why Bush was fundamentally wrong on Iraq. Bush and the real President, Cheney are majoritarian fascists. Remember Cheney saying we can do this or that because we won the election. Our position and philosophy should not be for the spread of democracy, it should be for the protection of minority rights. This principle would thus permit us to be consistent on Israel and Iraq, with Jews and Sunni, both being minorities in need of protection

JW-Atlantic Review on :

"5) We need to understand that the removal of Saddam Hussein was merely a history accelerating event. The Shite/Sunni conflict was bound to happen. We just made it happen when we were unprepared for it." Good point. Everything we see in Iraq now could have happened without the US invading Iraq. The international community considers Iraq a US problem right now. I wonder what the international community would have done, if the Shiite/Sunni conflict had broken out after a an internal coup against Saddam rather than by US intervention. Re # 6: Real democracy includes minority protection. Besides, how do you want to translate the principle of minority protection into actual policy?

Don S on :

Including the events of last night, Joerg? ;) Permit me to doubt that Saddam Hussein would ever have been hung by the neck into dead had he remained in power. No, the Iraqi people would have been looking forward to the gentle minstrations of Uday or Quesay Hussein. Either of which make Assad fils look a prince of a guy by comparison....

Don S on :

Should Obama run? Depends upon your perspective. I think if Obama wishes to be President rather than Senior Senator from Illinois - 2008 is his time. He is hot - now. He has a chance - now. The country might go for him - now. Even if he loses in 2008 there are several ways he could win. He could be picked as the VP on a Democratic ticket. I'd think that unless he questions the sexual habits of the nominee or gets caught in bed with a dead girl he's almost a lock for being offered the Veep slot. From that two things can happen. They win - and Obama gets an 8 year apprenticeship which should set him up nicely for 2016. Or they lose small - in which he's the front runner from day one for 2012. Only if they lose a landslide is he political toast - and how likely is that?

Pinkerton on :

I also think that Obama on a ticket as VP is a sure win for the Democratic party. It would be best for him to gain some experience and I think whoever puts him on a ticket will use his charisma and ability to talk to both sides of the aisle to their best advantage. I'm just not sure he is ready for prime time, yet. The one thing he does have going for him is the fact that he's a really smart guy who doesn't get trapped easily into giving a bad sound-byte that will come back to haunt him. That has always been Kerry's situation. He was always stuck explaining what he said and that made him look indecisive, even though he really wasn't. The media played him like a fiddle. I'm also not keen on John Edwards. He's a nice guy, but while trying to take the high road, he often will look weak. IMO, he doesn't have the fight he needs to get down into the dirt and fight to win. Being a nice guy only gets you second place.

Pinkerton on :

"I largely agree with the rest of your post, Pinkerton - but not on this one. The best judgement of dispassionate political science researchers is that the effect of the Veep on the ticket is a very small one, and the effect is quite localised." At any other time, I might agree with that assessment. However, since Cheney had become VP, the office of VP has changed direction. Cheney had much more power than any other VP that I can remember. He had his finger (and his nose) in every decision that Bush made. Basically, Cheney ran the country into the ground, and managed to stick Bush with the responsibility. Regarding Kerry, losing the race for President. Are you saying that Bush won the Presidency with a mandate? Without the mess in Ohio and other states with the voting machines that were flipping names. Without the long lines of people who were turned away from the polls, who wanted to vote for Kerry, Bush never would have won. Now, with a Democratic Senate and Congress, and the number of Democratic Governors increasing in the US, I'm hoping that a paper trail will be required at all voting machines, so people like Bush and the corrupt Republican party won't be able to steal any more elections. Kerry would not have cherry picked intel to go to war. Kerry would not have sent our troops into battle without the proper equipment and Kerry would not have been on vacation while New Orleans went under water. "Leiberman was the obvious choice for the Dems in 2004. " Why am I not surprised that you would think that Lieberman, would be a good choice? LOL! Lieberman is nothing more than a political hack who is trying to ride the straddle the fence in order to stay in power. He blows with the wind and changes colors like a chameleon depending who is in power at the time. The only thing he cares about is himself and his own power...just like Bush, Cheney and gang. Of course you would think he's the perfect choice, he's as big a phoney and incompetent boob as Bus is! So, you think that Edwards is a phoney??? Don't make me laugh. After all these years, watching Bush lie through his teeth, tell the American middle class how much he cares about them as he outsources jobs out of the country, and tries to keep the minimum wage from raising to a livable wage... give me a break! How about the phoney Bush who uses our military as backdrops for his photo ops and then sends them off to war ill-equipped? How about how he is spending time with his family and enjoying the holiday's, while our troops are getting killed left and right? Gee, the big news was that Bush spent 3 hours discussing the war in Iraq and trying to come up with a solution...then goes back to his vacation with his family. Three stinking hours! He's the phony! Just like he did with Katrina, playing his guitar and doing photo-ops was more important than the levee's breaking or evacuating the citizens of New Orleans. Yet, you tell me that Kerry would not have been a good president? Unbelievable! Oh...and regarding Gore, ummm....global warming? Bush just passed a bill to protect the polar bears who are dying because of global warming. The same global warming that he refuses to recognize because he doesn't believe the scientists. The same global warming that Bush ignores every time he passes a bill that takes away regulations for clean air in his so called "Clean-Air" Act, in order to help the big corporations rake in more dough. Yeah, that Bush, he's a real wonder, isn't he?

influx on :

Well, to be fair, George W. Bush did actually agree that there is such a thing as global warming. He just wasn't sure whether it was man-made or a natural process. But then, he also said that the jury is still out on evolution.

Pinkerton on :

Well, I can see why George is confused on the evolution thing. He still hasn't seemed to evolve from the ape stage, himself. He is trying to master the wheel, however. Pretty soon he'll be able to take the training wheels off his bike.

Don S on :

Yes, Pinkerton. I think that Edwards is a palpable phoney. I have no interest in debating whether Bush is also a phoney - we're going to disagree on that til the end of time. But I'll go as far as to agree that politics is full of phonies. But even politicians don't have to go as far in that as John Edwards and Lamar Alexander do.... I think a more interesting discussion might be about the people who look likely to become our next president. You may have noted that I didn't call Barak or HRC phonies or dumb or cack-banded. Actually I think they have potential. I think there is a fair possibility that our next President will come from your side of the aisle. My interest is in getting as good a president as possible no matter who wins. To that end I'd like to see Guliani run against HRC or possibly Obama. I see Kerry and Gore as damaged goods & Edwards almost as inexperienced as Obama without the plus side. I have a few problems with McCain as well, at least when compared with Rudy. I don't know much about the other GOP contenders, or the Democrats for that matter.

Don S on :

"I also think that Obama on a ticket as VP is a sure win for the Democratic party." I largely agree with the rest of your post, Pinkerton - but not on this one. The best judgement of dispassionate political science researchers is that the effect of the Veep on the ticket is a very small one, and the effect is quite localised. The best example of a Veep making a difference may have been the decidedly uncharismatic LBJ in 1960. The race was one of the closest in history and Kennedy took Texas by 50,000 votes. I wouldn't load a failure in 2008 on Obabma's shoulders. That said, with the little we know right now about 2008, Obabma looks far the most desireable Veep (or even head of the ticket) on the traditional question - who will help the ticket the most? Then again consider what we knew at this point in 2002? Howie Dean was nowheresville - the frontrunner was probably Gore, Leiberman, or HRC with Kerry a dark horse. Dean soared on Netroots wings then crashed. Edwards was a 2 year senator in 2002) & ended up the VP candidate. Lots of things can (and will) happen. Never underestimate the ability of the Democrats to make another dumb nomination.... "I'm just not sure he is ready for prime time, yet." Was Kerry? Or Gore? Or (going back into ancient history) were Dukakis or Mario Cuomo ready for 'Prime Time'? Despite their vast experience? But a governor from a lesser Southern state was pure electoral magic. Seems to me that the lesson from 1992 is that successful leaders sense when the gold ring is within grasp - and have the courage to grab it. Montrose' Toast is Mario Cuomo's political epitaph: "He fears his fate too much, Or his deserts are small. Who dares not put it to the touch, To win or lose it all!" "The one thing he does have going for him is the fact that he's a really smart guy who doesn't get trapped easily into giving a bad sound-byte that will come back to haunt him." He has two other things going for him as well. He is a really likable character with a clear political 'brand' (I leave working out what that is as an exercise for observers). And he has a very short Senate career. Nothing much to grab ahold of for opponents. Sort of like Carter in 1976 in that respect. But he's a whole lot more charismatic than Carter ever was. But not from the south, a drawback. I think it balances out. Given the choice I'd far rather see President Barak than President Edwards, not that my opinion as a jaundiced wing-nut matters much. Obama streikes me as a much better, deeper person than John Edwards does. Edwards reeks of the phoniest sincerity this side of Lamar Alexander.... ;) "That has always been Kerry's situation. He was always stuck explaining what he said and that made him look indecisive, even though he really wasn't. The media played him like a fiddle." Kerry had a remarkably undeserved reputation for smarts and political acumen - and showed it. Leiberman was the obvious choice for the Dems in 2004. Had you been smart enough to nominate him we'd be doing post-mortems on the brief Bush administration right now..... "I'm also not keen on John Edwards. He's a nice guy, but while trying to take the high road, he often will look weak." Shallow, shallow, shallow. Shallow enough to make Kerry look like Abe Lincoln in comparison. Best political comparison to John Edwards? Danny-boy Quayle.. Think about it.... Remember those videos of him spending 10 minutes getting his hair just right? That's going to follow him around for the rest of his career.

Pinkerton on :

Don S // Remember those videos of him spending 10 minutes getting his hair just right? That's going to follow him around for the rest of his career.// I just FINALLY found that video you were speaking of. It took him 1 minute and 42 seconds to fix his hair for a television appearance, with the help of a sylist (who works with Republicans before a television appearance, also). Hmmm...exaggeration, not very flattering, Don S. You see, when you have to lie or exaggerate in order to make a point, it doesn't help to make your case. Also, the fact that it took me so long to find the video, shows you that the only ones who are interested or who care, are the right wing nuts who put them on their blogs. I wouldn't call that "following him around for the rest of his career." Better luck next time, Don.

Don S on :

"I just FINALLY found that video you were speaking of" A bit slow tonight, Pinkerton? ;) Go to youtube, search on 'John Edwards', and look about 7 down. It's called 'I Feel Pretty'.

Pinkerton on :

Don Go to YouTube and search under "Bushisms" and you get 101. So what is your point? Seven is supposed to be a big number? Seven is supposed to represent a number that is going to haunt this guy for the rest of his career? Give me a break. Combing his hair for 1 minute and 42 seconds (not 10 minutes as you said, trouble with counting, Don?) isn't anything unusual, especially if preparing to go on a tv show. Have you ever checked out video of McCain or any of your other Republican candidates preparing for a tv spot? I could equally put that same music to a video of McCain having make-up splattered on his face or a stylist combing his hair. I guess since you guys don't have anything else...that's your best shot. Pretty pathetic.

Don S on :

Pinkerton. Not 7 in total - the 7th down in the list. I'm sure there are a bunch of Edwards videos just as there a munch of Bush and any other major politicians. My sole point is that it's not as obscure and hard to find as you implied in you're previous post. You want to find a video - you go to Youtube and search, of course.

Pinkerton on :

Well, Don...if you think this video is supposed to be haunting Edwards for the rest of his career, why is it that You Tube seems to be the place I should look for it? Hell, You Tube also have stupid videos of teenagers making faces into a camera. My point was, that particular video was not on any news programs, only a smattering of right wing nut blogs and that's it. You call that following someone? That's a laugh. You still can't seem to face the fact that you outright lied about the amount of time spent fixing his hair, which as I said before, just shows what a pathetic attempt at slamming a candidate it was. I guess if that's all ya got, exaggeration and lies will have to be your only tool. Keep up the good work, Don, maybe someday you can work for Fox News.

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