Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Leftists? Hokum. But "Anti-War" is a Pretty Good Thing to Be

Wed May 10, 2006 at 01:03:52 PM PDT

We've certainly been treated to our fair share of opinions of late that Daily Kossians and assorted others are terribly, terribly out there on the fringes of far-left thought. And all told, it's been pretty funny to see put-upon darlings of the media avail themselves of the Hugh Hewitt show to complain about those bitterly partisan folks over there, or members of the establishment with the most connections to cash-by-the-bucketful corporate politics be the quickest to titter the talking point.

In a world where we're having honest-to-God media discussions about what aspects of the Constitution the president does or doesn't actually have to follow, and where "Minutemen" culled from hate groups make a show of patrolling the US-Mexican border with the explicit praise of Republican congressmen and senators, I'd say the entry requirements for supposed leftism are pretty darn slack, these days. It includes things like "bribing congressmen is still illegal" and "don't torture potentially innocent people", for starters, and works its way up to truly radical concepts like "deficits are bad" and "the Constitution is not optional law", which I suppose in the minds of the right, given their outcry, are astonishing, heretical notions.

We're also told ad nauseam we have no interest in issues; that's pretty darn wrong, actually, and I'm not sure how anyone could seriously skim the stories and diaries here, for example, and come to that conclusion. (I guess the key word in that sentence was "seriously."

It's asserted that we're anti-war in all cases; sorry, but while that's a noble bumper-sticker thought, there are certainly extraordinary occasions where self-defense is quite warranted, and liberal and pacifist are not the same thing. I'd say that the Republican party is pro-war to an astonishingly homogeneous degree, but opinions in the center and on the left are decidedly more nuanced. You won't find too many in those days who argued against a military response to 9/11, though you will find large numbers who warned against an ineffective military response.

Everyone on the planet should be anti-war. Here's a modest proposal: I think that if you ask someone if they are "pro-war", and they answer yes, you should shoot them. After all, they'll enjoy it, and it'll make things a lot easier for the rest of us.

But when pundits snuffle about the "anti-war" crowd, they pretend at a perfect conflation of the "anti-war" and the anti-Iraq War positions, and choose to believe that everyone who opposes the Iraq War is some sort of longhaired American McGandhi. Every opponent of the war who gave very good strategic and policy reasons for their opposition to this now-proven national disaster has continued to be simply ignored by the pundits who were horrifically, astonishingly, unmitigatedly and unapologetically flat wrong in their own pre-war suppositions and theories.

So here's the question, about these pundits continually whining about the supposedly unserious "anti-war crowd": are they honestly that out of touch with the real world, and did they honestly completely miss every single serious critique of the implications of the war? Or are they just lying?

I can't conceive that any pundit or partisan actually living could have missed the debate accidentally, so the conclusion, of course, is obvious: that the objections against the war were dismissed then, due to a tsunami of absolutely astonishingly bad Conventional Wisdom excreting itself from every orifice in Washington, and pretenses at salvaging now-flushed credibility among the pundit class continue to dictate that they very studiously ignore their monstrously, criminally wrong divinations now.

I was and still remain strongly for military action in Afghanistan as a legitimate and necessary act in response to 9/11: an attack on two American cities and on the infrastructure of government cannot be ignored, and the premise that such a strawman position was even remotely widespread, in the days when presidential approval ratings threatened to top two hundred percent (ugh), is dishonest. However, the actual prosecution of that military response has been a fiasco from the first weeks, and did nothing but get worse. For all the self-described "strength" of neoconservative foreign policy, Bush and his advisors managed to out-bungle the Soviets -- Bush sent in a tentative, piddling number of troops, not nearly enough to accomplish the job, and after an initial and predictable Taliban rout, lost even that level of interest, leaving such apparently critical tasks as actually capturing the Taliban and al Qaeda leadership in the hands of very dubiously loyal warlords while Bush himself wandered off, uninterested, to imagine himself a wider regional conflict. And thus, Afghanistan remains in a low-grade war of its own, something a bit too similar to a sort of inverted Soviet fiasco, largely forgotten in the debate over Iraq.

If we had not immediately cranked the steering wheel hard right into Iraq, we would have had the troops -- and the budget, and the attention span -- to accomplish what needed to be done in Afghanistan and against the "heart" of terrorism. As it is, we have managed to duplicate many of the mistakes of the Soviet Union twenty years ago in a fashion I truly thought would be almost tactically impossible. The solution was and is, oddly enough, to do in Afghanistan what was attempted (or at least preached about) in Iraq. More troops are needed, and an actual international reconstruction effort that stabilizes the Afghani economy, removes the warlords, and assists self-sufficiency efforts. We could have demonstrated to the Muslim world how we treat our enemies, and how we treat our friends, and what the difference between the Soviets and ourselves were. By shuffling off to Iraq, we showed them the exact wrong lesson -- that we lacked resolve, lacked competence, lacked the will to commit troops to the effort, that we can be outlasted, and that we don't really give a crap about them anyway short of a bomb-or-no-bomb national strategy.

How do we even attempt to fix that now? Unclear, but pulling troops out of Iraq and putting some in Afghanistan for an honest rebuilding effort might be able to partly fix this mess and remove the impetuses for the Taliban counterinsurgency and actual Muslim extremism in the country. Perhaps.

But the War on Terror -- of which I considered the disposal of not just al Qaeda, but the unquestionably enabling Taliban to be an absolutely essential part -- is not the same thing as the war in Iraq. The former and latter have been linked through presidential rhetoric from the start, but the entire premise of the Iraq War was flawed from conception.

My own objection to the Iraq War -- and the objection of nearly every other so-called "serious" critic of the war, in fact -- is that it fundamentally and quite predictably doomed the actual war on terrorism from the start, by managing to cut the arteries of the unprecedented international will to rout al Qaeda and other terrorist groups -- while simultaneously giving terrorism the exact boogieman needed to rally widespread Muslim support for the notion that America really is an immediate enemy. It is a recruitment poster for terrorists: conservatives have yet to wrap their heads around the notion that we're creating a wider and generational terrorism problem, when we should have been isolating the terrorists from their actual bases of support in the region -- of which Iraq was a microscopic part.

Merely taking the time to internationalize action in Iraq would have helped, slightly, but the fact remains that it was a stupid, destructive, resource-draining, military-shredding fiasco from the moment of conception. A predictable disaster. Booting the president and his advisors to the curb in a suitably public way would do wonders to regain international peacekeeping support, and the actual trust of Iraqis. But the fact remains that no matter how bad Hussein was or how "uncontained" you imagined him to be, the invasion of Iraq was exactly the sort of broader regional conflict that bin Laden intended to provoke on 9/11, and Bush and his advisors followed the intended plan like a raccoon following a trail of kibble.

Call me crazy, but I think doing the one thing that bin Laden both wanted and expected (a regional war to rally fundamentalists) is, well, pretty much the stupidest possible thing to have done. Congratulations, neoconservative strategists, an isolated nutcase in a remote Afghani cave managed to predict American foreign policy reactions nearly to the letter. Why is it that, to this day, nobody has been talking about the help that the Iraq War has given bin Laden's proclaimed long-term strategic goals?

Where are we now? In a state of flux, obviously, but it's looking unlikely we'll have the kind of pressure we need to rid places like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia of their deep ties to terrorism, because those regimes have to be extremely careful in how they respond to U.S. pressures now, and large segments of their populations are decidedly hostile towards America -- a "now-proven" aggressor. "Axis of Evil" member Iran has learned exactly one lesson -- that countries with no weapons of mass destruction get invaded, and that countries with such defensive capabilities do not, so they'd better damn well get cracking on building some. The India-Pakistan tensions continue; the Palestinian question remains simply ignored, possibly because there is no strategic plan for dealing with them, among Republicans, aside from shooting them. The rest of the region glides along as usual, with genocide in Africa, fundamentalism resurgent in the Middle East, and a situation in the southern post-Soviet republics clearly headed for their own Afghanistan or Iraq-style failed state status in the future.

That's not a "strong" foreign policy, it's piecemeal isolationism coupled with a few brief flashes of all-out clusterfuckery. And yes, I think it's fair to call it isolationism, from the standpoint of international diplomacy and wider goals. Despite the rhetoric of international inclusion, the conservative foreign policy approach remains one-dimensional -- with blanket dismissal of not only the U.N., but any inconvenient and therefore "outdated" international law and treaties -- spotted with a few all-or-nothing, all the eggs in one basket "preemptive" military strikes. The PNAC plan has been routed, in actual practice, and we're left with a hybrid, Frankensteinian half-isolationist, half-PNAC policy that only hardcore Republicans can even pretend to praise.

You might even notice that in these past few months, of course, there's very little pretense on the right about winning "hearts and minds" at all. Now, the question is simply becoming why the United States did not have sufficient "will" to start killing Iraqis off in very large numbers until they started liking us more. The transparency with which "hearts and minds" became "exterminate the brutes", among not only the far-right but supposedly "serious" thinkers, should tell you exactly how close to their hearts the welfare of the poor Iraqis has always been, past presidential it-wasn't-really-the-WMDs-it-was-the-freedom walkbacks notwithstanding.

You'll note none of that, above, is the sort of "reflexively anti-war" position that, even now, supposedly "serious" policy wonks wave their arms pretending to see swarming around their heads like imaginary flies. They choose to not deal with the realities of the situation -- since the realities of the situation prove them demonstrably incompetent -- so maintaining strictly fictional, strawman characterizations of the reasons for opposition to the Iraq War remains the stock in trade.

I suppose one other difference I indeed have with most in the supposedly-serious pundit class is that I do tend to very strongly respect supposedly "kneejerk" anti-war positions as being absolutely credible: American history is full of wars and covert "revolutions" claiming to help other countries, and you can count the number of times it has actually accomplished good, instead of disaster, on one hand with fingers to spare. Being wary of interventionism by way of large-scale invasion is a pretty damn reasonable instinct to have.

When I hear a pundit whining about the "anti-war crowd", I know immediately not to take them seriously. Being anti-war is a basic requirement of civilization, it's hardly a shocking or insincere position. But nuances of foreign policy exist beyond the two bomb-or-don't-bomb extremes -- though that notion seems incapable of sparking itself to life in the so-called pundit class -- and it all depends on the war you're talking about.

On the Iraq War? The opponents were right in all particulars -- how long we'd be there, what the response would be, the factionalization of the Iraqi people, and the obvious "inconsistencies," ahem, of the hyped WMD threat. The advocates were not only wrong, but very, very wrong, wrong in a sort of historically monumental way that will require an unflattering chapter in the history books all its own. If all you've got to defend yourself from that is whining about the supposed extremists surrounding you, then please -- don't expect much respect.

Though only a tangentially related point and not the direct impetus for this particular post, I've been watching pundit Richard Cohen get roundly plastered by the blogs for, well, complaining about getting plastered by the blogs. It is part of the "angry left" meme -- and God Knows the right hasn't made an entire radio, television, and print industry out of head-spinning, projectile-vomiting outrage over every little thing that could possibly be ranted about for a seven minute segment or two.

I have sympathy for anyone claiming to get hate mail, though I have to say I think I've yet to get a single piece of hate mail that I've taken seriously enough to write about or even read past the first triple-exclamation-points. I think Cohen found himself where he found himself not because of any terrible actual offense, but simply because dull-as-dishwater people who talk at length about how some piece of comedy wasn't really funny even though some people thought it was are, well, launching themselves into social blowhard territory without a compass to get back out. It's flat true, people are angry, and they're quite angry at the press, and as of yet, there's been a complete absence of contemplation, among the press, at exactly why that anger is there. Not surprising, given that a snivelingly defensive posture towards their own war stances are all that any pro-war pundits can muster even at this late date.

This February 2003 Cohen quote has been thrown back at him more times than I can count, at this point:

The evidence [Colin Powell] presented to the United Nations -- some of it circumstantial, some of it absolutely bone-chilling in its detail -- had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn't accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool -- or possibly a Frenchman -- could conclude otherwise.

Yeah. Reading that brilliant bit of national punditry again, I have to say... it still makes me pretty damn angry. It's one of those things that, in my mind, isn't going to be forgiven anytime soon. You dismiss the people who later turned out to be right with juvenile taunts of "Frenchmen!", and I'd say they get to consider you a rhetorical enemy, an unserious twit, in fact, and they get to be mad at you, and they get to use that to color their own judgment of your supposed "civility" and "competence" for a very long time. Calling a few million people Frenchmen, after all, is the sort of snotty upperclass Victorian buffoonery that is considered ever-so-witty, in the halls of pestilently vapid punditry. A few thousand people responding to your own ad nauseam dismissals and taunts over how none of this mess should be satirized in the presence of the Decidering Class, on the other hand: please, now that's just gauche.

That's where Cohen got burned, and deservedly so: for the continuing pretension that one side of the debate is "serious", and that the strawmanned opposing side is simply dismissible. The Colbert "issue" was considered by Cohen's critics to be nothing but the most transparent of proxies, the latest in a series of Very Serious Press Divinations that have devolved from the wrong to the buffoonish in the span of the last four years.

No, I'd say that we were and are pretty firm in our convictions that the Iraq War was going to be a clusterfuck, was being executed in the precise ways absolutely sure to make it a clusterfuck, and now is a clusterfuck. And I'd say we get to be a bit angry about it -- that part I'll grant you. But I would caution whiners of the petulant angry left talking point that you might spend a wee speck of time contemplating the reasons for that anger, because it's not going away anytime soon.

What do these "angry!" people want? A full media apology, signed in blood, for the absolute collapse of media responsibility and ethics in the runup to the war? Yeah, that's not going to happen. But you might consider a simple truth: that when people are genuinely angry, seeming to lack the basic comprehension or even the professional interest to bother to figure out why hardly buffs your punditry credentials. It just demonstrates, in spades, that the punditry class is exactly as out-of-touch, self serving and vapid as actual America perceives them to be.

And you might consider not pretending to dismiss every critic of the war or of presidential bungling as "leftist", or "McGovernite", or as "the anti-war crowd", while all the while pretending that the various rotating rationales for Iraq being tossed out and re-buried are, each one in turn, the real reason for the war, the one we knew the whole time, and all the while still granting the time of day to pundits and analysts and think-tank "experts" who proved themselves so spectacularly incompetent as to now find themselves now in the ranks of the perpetually discredited, but who continue to swear up and down that there's still a pony in all this horseshit, if we just keep digging.

Until then, expect to get plastered.

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