A reader writes to

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A reader writes to ask if I was too harsh in my previous post arguing that “Bush and the Rumsfeldian wing of administration foreign policy have been lazily, stupidly, arrogantly indifferent” to the crisis now boiling over in Macedonia.

First, Talking Points is sometimes hyperbolic. That’s one of the things I like about it. And the site itself is a different genre of writing from that in which I or others might write in say Slate or The New Republic. Sites like TPM or Kausfiles or AndrewSullivan.com are an evolving form, but I at least think of them as having the parameters and conventions of verbal conversation as much as magazine writing — even though they only exist in written form.

This is actually just one of the many reasons writing Talking Points is actually a rather weird and perplexing experience. Today for instance I was invited to a foundation-sponsored lunch for the release of a new book by one of DC’s marquee, establishment pundits. This is a pretty standard sort of thing where a cluster of bigwigs, and a few smallwigs like Talking Points, get together for a free lunch, a free book, and a lot of questioning and answering which may or may not have about the same value.

In any case, I’m there in my Sunday finest waiting for things to get under way, wondering whether it’s okay to start eating my sandwich or not, when I see out of the corner of my eye the event host and another familiar face from the Cable TV airwaves standing at the edge of the room calling me over. I hop up to see what they want. And the fellow calling me over says to me with a mix of schadenfreude, irony, and furtiveness: “Josh, we’ve only got a few minutes before we’ve got to start, but tell us, what’s the latest about Chandra?”

In almost two years in DC I’m not sure I’ve ever had a time when I felt quite that equal measure of affirmation and utter mortification at precisely the same moment.

In any case, back to the subject at hand: whether “Bush and the Rumsfeldian wing of administration foreign policy have been lazily, stupidly, arrogantly indifferent” to the burgeoning crisis in the Macedonia.

For all I’ve said above about the unique weirdness of Talking Points, I think these tough words are actually entirely appropriate. Here’s why:

For years, Republicans have complained about Bill Clinton’s allegedly promiscuous use of American soldiers, putting them here, putting them there, and so forth. They’ve made snarky jabs about the administration using our soldiers as ‘social workers,’ doing all sorts of unmanly, unsoldierly duties, as though our Balkan deployments were simply some international equivalent of corporate diversity training workshops.

(The US did allow the American troops serving in the UN contingent to escort Albanian rebels in the operation that triggered the recent unrest. And the willingness to involve us, in that case, deserves credit. But the overall policy is pretty clear.)

As the Bushies have in so many other arenas, they’ve come to the White House with the standing assumption that everything Bill Clinton did should be undone — righting the wrong in some sense of Bill Clinton’s very presidency. This isn’t the only reason certainly that the Bushies have taken a jaundiced view of our Balkan deployments, but it’s an important part of the equation. And Don Rumsfeld has openly spoken of his desire to pull back our troop commitments in the former Yugoslavia.

This is a lazy, stupid and arrogant viewpoint. The new administration with its neo-Blimp political appointees in the Defense Department want global preeminence and geopolitical stability on the cheap. They’ve indulged an arrogant anti-Clintonism, a lazy retreat to neo-Cold War verities, and thinking about our interests and responsibilities in the Balkans which I think is properly called stupid. Our involvement in the Balkans was at best a wash politically for the Clinton administration; but it was the right thing to do, despite the messy outcome. Those who carped on the sidelines, either irresponsibly or foolishly, deserve no mercy when their facile maxims bear fruit.

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