Since I’m for the war and a blogger, I guess he’d include me in that category. And since I have a deep set of disagreements with him – not just about the war but about some of the broader issues he raises in the post, I’ll take them on here.First, the tired (I’d hoped it was re-tired by now) ‘chickenhawk’ argument:
…the warbloggers, those armchair generals who appear to delight in conflict, war and death — so long as it all occurs far from wherever they happen to be, while their fingers fly over their laptops, while they sip their evening drinks and watch their widescreen TVs in their oh-so-comfortable homes.
Second, the notion that simplisme is the root of the desire for war, and that one who understands the complex, rich broth of history would take a different position:
According to the brave, fearless, always-typing warbloggers, we had spread before us an old-fashioned morality play: on one side, we had pure, untarnished good — the noble, honorable, uncompromising United States, which stands only for truth, justice, freedom and liberty for all. And on the other side, we had a monster like Saddam Hussein — and anyone who expressed a “but” clearly had placed himself on Saddam’s side, and on the side of torture, the murder of innocents, the gassing of children, rape rooms, and innumerable other crimes against humanity. There was no middle ground, no complexity, no nuance here — it was one or the other. You were either on the side of the typing warbloggers and of Pure Good, or allied with the forces of Unadulterated Evil.
Third, the notion that criticism somehow equals censorship:
I also realized something much more important: all those who adopted Coalition of the Pissy as their war whoop of condemnation against anyone declining to join their mindless dance of joy are nothing more than moral bullies and intellectual thugs. They are the enemies of mind, and of thought — and they are the enemies of truth, justice and freedom in a very deep sense. They are the advance guard of the Truth Police. For them, history does not exist, nor does the past in any meaningful sense at all, nor does the future.
These barbarians live only in the moment, only in the now — disconnected from everything that has become before, and from everything that is likely to flow in the future from our present actions. Thought, principles and ideas are alien to them, in the most profound sense imaginable.
Fourth, the notion that it’s really All Our Fault:
And if you want thorough, indeed overwhelming, documentary evidence of the numerous kinds of support provided to Iraq in the 1970s and 1980s by both the United States and Britain, go to this page. Follow the links — and despair, but wonder no more where Saddam’s “power” came from.
But our own crimes and betrayals still continued. Not only did we build up a man we knew to be a vicious, brutal dictator when it suited the demands of an utterly pragmatic, unprincipled foreign policy — a policy which many enthusiastic supporters of our current foreign policy now want to see continued with Taiwan, so that we can sell yet another free country down the river for the benefit of a totalitarian dictatorship — but we then stood by while innocents were slaughtered by the tens of thousands. The following has to be one of the blackest marks in our recent history — and one of the most damning indictments of a “pragmatic” foreign policy, a policy which deliberately and intentionally spits in the face of principles, and of the value of human life.
Fifth, the notion that having done something wrong in the past, we can’t right it.
…these people who proclaim their own moral superiority at every turn, and condemn those who do not agree with them in every detail as loathsome “Saddam-lovers” who “hate America” — apparently never learned, or are now determined to forget, that it was the United States, Britain and other Western nations who built up and supported Saddam when it suited our purposes, and that it was the United States that stood by while courageous Iraqis were slaughtered literally under our noses.
Sixth, the overweening moral arrogance that seems to characterize a big part of the antiwar movement.
I want to state one thing very clearly and unmistakably for the benefit of any warbloggers who might read this — particularly those warbloggers and other hawks who strut their self-announced moral superiority and constantly shove it in the face of everyone else, and who act as if any disagreement with their historically ignorant views of the world constitutes some sort of treason. You are the enemies of America — just as you are the enemies of thought, of history, of ideas, of any conception of what genuine liberty means, and how it is to be achieved.
Let’s go through these in order.
First, I’ve hammered a nail in the chickenhawk argument before; I should try again with a wooden stake. It’s a vile debate tactic, aimed as silencing those with whom you disagree, and intellectually senseless, as it would suggest that only the troops ought to vote on issues involving war – something that I hope we’re pretty far away from in this country.
Second, no, the issue isn’t the acceptance of nuance, but the inability to see anything in the other side’s facts or argument that can simply be accepted – as it makes sense to accept that Saddam’s capture was good – without a left-handed attempt to devalue it.Again, it’s about devaluing an opponent’s arguments so that no real weighing can take place. I fully accept the idea that war is a bad thing – that innocents (and innocence) die; that events seldom play out according to plan; that plans themselves are incomplete and contingent.
I’m just weighing the scales differently, and am willing to accede both the goodwill and intellectual probity of those who disagree with me. Doesn’t mean I don’t think they aren’t wrong; people often are.
But I don’t need to deny the idea that deaths in combat – of our troops, civilians, or even our enemies – are tragic, or that lives are in fact shattered by loss and injury in wartime. And I can hold that thought without the balancing ‘but’ and still hold on to my belief that those tragedies and losses are sometimes necessary or unavoidable. In my universe, that’s what qualifies a nuance and intellectual sophistication.
Third, no, saying that you’re wrong – even loudly saying that you’re wrong – isn’t censorship, it isn’t something that makes us ‘enemies of truth, justice and freedom‘ – unless, of course, you are the sole arbiter of truth, justice, and freedom (see arrogance, below). I’m tired of reading in the Los Angeles Times plaints from those who explain that their dissent is being crushed by the totalitarian State. If the State was crushing your dissent, you wouldn’t be on page A3 of the Times, you’d be in Pelican Bay. that ought to be a difference we can all understand.
Fourth, where does the notion that all of history is driven by the Trilateral Commission (or, more seriously, by the U.S.) come from? Everything isn’t our fault, nor is it entirely our responsibility.
The West, collectively, has both some responsibility for what happens in the Middle East, and some stake in how it comes out. That stake was raised dramatically on 9/11 – as it would have been had we watched a cloud of debris, dust, and human ash rain down over Paris rather than Manhattan.
But to suggest that we – in the U.S., or even in the West in its entirety are the only actors in this drama – is both counterfactual and morally demeaning to the actual people who live in those far away lands. They have the status of actors, of moral agents, not props in some morality play being acted out among the intellectuals here in California.
Fifth, our failure to march on Baghdad and to support the Sunni uprising was a stupid and immoral act. But I’ll point out that it was many of the same actors in Europe and the UN who counseled that we limit our action to ejecting Saddam from Kuwait. And having failed to do the right thing once precludes us from doing the right thing later – how?
Sixth, I certainly reserve the right to enthusiastically argue on behalf of what I believe in. But I make those arguments in the context of my belief that the rest of the universe is full of smart, well-informed people who are worth listening to. And that not only do I hope they I can convince them of things important to me, but that it just may be that I learn something from them.
Because if I can’t learn from other people – if my only lessons come from self-reflection and dialogs held with my mirror – there wouldn’t be any point in public dialog, and I could save myself the effort of typing these words for public consumption.