Reality? Meet The Corner.

I don't know if this merits a blog post, but Rich Lowry is either a liar or a simpleton. Regarding a segment on yesterday's Meet the Press, he says:

Both Mike Allen and Paul Krugman talked about the “opportunity cost” of the war in Iraq with regard to Iran and North Korea. This is such an opportunistic argument. Would Krugman, for instance, support invading Iran or North Korea but for the fact that the US military is tied down in Iraq? Of course not. The Democrats dissent from Bush's Iran and North Korea policies because they think we should be doing more negotiating (and offering of economic and diplomatic carrots), which you can do regardless of how your military forces are occupied. So on the Democrats' terms there has been no real “opportunity cost” to the Iraq war.

But lets go to the tape:

MR. ALLEN: Yeah. I think one place you may see the Democratic argument go is the opportunity cost of Iraq as you see problems in North Korea and Iran. $300 billion has been spent before on this, but the embassy by itself is going to be $600 million, the biggest in the world.


MR. KRUGMAN: Yeah. I mean, there--I mean, this is the opportunity cost argument that Mike's making. I mean, the--we have--not only have we tied our forces and spent an awful lot of money, we've also enormously damaged our reputation. If you go back to what people were saying two years ago about U.S. hyperpower, about how the U.S. was this irresistible force--and now, even if it turns out well, which we all hope it does, the fact is the greatest power the world has ever known has been bogged down for two years fighting, really, an insurrection of about five million Sunnis. You know? And all of a sudden, the world is a lot less afraid of us. The Koreans are saying, "Hi! Look, we've got the bomb. You know, want to do something about it?" And it's very bad.

Krugman is making the basic point that our ineffectiveness in Iraq has made it clear to other, stronger rogue nations that we don't have the capability to invade them. Lowry, unable to argue the point, is deflecting with this weird accusation of opportunism. He's entirely aware that Krugman's argument is on-target, and that there's really no good answer for it. So he's setting up a brand new test for dissenting on foreign policy -- you can only criticize the strength of our military if you are a proven warmonger.

What a hack.

Update: One more point on this. Rich knows how crisis diplomacy works, so he's really just making an argument based on the imagined preferences of Paul Krugman. But let's grant Rich's assumption and say that Paul, like any sane person, really, really, really doesn't want to go to war with Iran and North Korea. That only makes his argument on opportunity costs stronger. Assume that before the invasion, there were three main ways for America to deal with a foreign policy crisis. The first was diplomacy, encompassing incentives and sanctions. The third was military options, everything from surgical strikes to full-out invasion. The second, which was the middle way, was the threat of military options. So long as others feared our might, we could posture, make aggressive noises, begin public build-ups, even deploy out to borders, in the hopes that fear of our strength would force capitulation. It was a stronger and more dangerous path than simple diplomacy, but it didn't commit us to a war and occupation. This, by the way, was working well in Iraq, but it turned out that Bush wasn't really interested in having inspectors enter the country and it was all a ruse leading to invasion.

Post-Iraq, option number two no longer exists. Not only have we proven ourselves barely capable of invading an extremely weak country, we've also tied up our troops, exhausted our forces, and busted our deficit doing it. In this climate, anything that looks like a feint will be judged a feint, the costs of another invasion are simply too high for most nations to believe we'd try again. Losing that option, then, makes war more, not less, likely. If North Korea or Iran make a move that's beyond the pale, we no longer have the ability to threaten war. That means, if diplomacy and sanctions fail, that our only option is actually going to war. That means Krugman, even under Rich's uncharitable assumption, was entirely right about the opportunity costs.

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