Thursday, August 18, 2005

Apologists under attack

This article by Harold Meyerson in the American Prospect calls out prominent journalists who made the case for the war in Iraq back when it mattered, who rallied public opinion around what was objectively a tough sell. I remember when I first heard Bush making serious noises about invading, back in July of 2002, while I was in Costa Rica. The idea seemed so implausible, so laughable, I barely gave it notice. Who could fail to see an attack on Iraq as anything other than a transparent attempt at distraction, an adolescent, indiscriminate lashing out? It didn't even make sense—what purpose would invading a country with virtually no involvement in the 9/11 attacks serve but to infuriate both friends and enemies? A wartime president needs a war to stay in business, and I assumed Bush was reaching out for any conflict he could get his hands on. War is addictive and ultimately damaging to the user, like a narcotic--but who would hand an addict $50 and a syringe, no questions asked? I was the one, however, who failed to acknowledge the intense loyalty to king and country of the American public, its apathetic approach to the details of foreign policy, and the neocon/conservative scheme underlying the entire project. I can't help but think that anyone, especially on the left, who claims to have been misled by Bush's propaganda-fueled push to war, is either desperately naive or disassembling (that means "not telling the truth"). The greater the shock and betrayal now evoked by these early war supporters, the greater my skepticism. I imagine, as public sentiment belatedly turns against the war, rafts of Democratic politicians castigating themselves for not realizing earlier that getting on the record against giving Bush authority to go to war in October 2002, aside from being the right thing to do, would also have been a good political move.

Even now, the number one complaint from the left and the center is the plaintive "he Lied to us". Yes, but you believed him! Number two: "they've mismanaged the war". This is the mother of all red herrings, allowing former war supporters to condemn Bush now that things aren't going well while maintaining the appearance of logical consistency with regard to their previous enthusiasm for the endeavor. It's a copout. I have to give Hitchens some credit for not taking the easy way out like Friedman and other moderates. Although it is interesting to watch him twist into increasingly awkward positions under the pressure of uncomfortable reality, particularly given his spirited (and accurate) condemnations of leftists who turned a blind eye to the fact of communist abuses during the Cold War.

Don't get me wrong, I'm no party-line fanatic (look how witless the Democratic party line was in late 2002), and I appreciate a healthy dose of contrarianism in an argument. But the conventional wisdom, the main current of political opinion against which radical ideas make little headway, should be "we do not attack other countries without good reason", not "we support the President in matters of foreign policy without asking questions, because he will act in our best interest".

Update: To those, including myself in moments of optimism, who point to the possibility of a democratic Middle East as the end result of the current chaos in Iraq, I say: 1) that was not why we went in—it was not conceived or sold, and certainly not executed, as a humanitarian project; 2) too many lives were lost and will be lost, for which we bear direct (for non-insurgents killed by Americans) or indirect (for those killed by the insurgents) responsibility; and 3) we have made things worse for ourselves than before. Democracy is a worthy end, and I sincerely hope it comes to the Middle East, but this was not an efficient or morally consistent way to achieve it.

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