Sunday, August 28, 2005

The loyal opposition

In this sobering essay, Frank Rich targets the president's refusal to face reality in Iraq and the Democrats' inexcusable failure to muster any kind of sensible alternative to the administration's failures:

It isn't just Mr. Bush who is in a tight corner now. Ms. Sheehan's protest was the catalyst for a new national argument about the war that managed to expose both the intellectual bankruptcy of its remaining supporters on the right and the utter bankruptcy of the Democrats who had rubber-stamped this misadventure in the first place.

When the war's die-hard cheerleaders attacked the Middle East policy of a mother from Vacaville, Calif., instead of defending the president's policy in Iraq, it was definitive proof that there is little cogent defense left to be made. When the Democrats offered no alternative to either Mr. Bush's policy or Ms. Sheehan's plea for an immediate withdrawal, it was proof that they have no standing in the debate.

It gets better:

The Democrats are hoping that if they do nothing, they might inherit the earth as the Bush administration goes down the tubes. Whatever the dubious merits of this Kerryesque course as a political strategy, as a moral strategy it's unpatriotic. The earth may not be worth inheriting if Iraq continues to sabotage America's ability to take on Iran and North Korea, let alone Al Qaeda.

As another politician from the Vietnam era, Gary Hart, observed last week, the Democrats are too cowardly to admit they made a mistake three years ago, when fear of midterm elections drove them to surrender to the administration's rushed and manipulative Iraq-war sales pitch. So now they are compounding the original error as the same hucksters frantically try to repackage the old damaged goods.

The Democrats, of course, face a big problem in that much of their activist base appears to be captive to an intellectually vacant anti-war movement, and as proof let us consider efforts to impede military recruiting. This starve-the-beast mentality might be an appealing short-term strategy for sabotaging the war in Iraq, but what about the next war? We still have a Constitution, my friends, and it still binds presidents to two terms in office. Do we want to leave the next president unable to wage the wars that we have to wage? If you're a pacifist, this might be fine. But I'm not, and I'd like us to leave Iraq able to fight another day.

Now, don't get me wrong; if the military is facing recruiting problems, it's the president I blame far more than any protestors. He's the one that got us into this mess. He's the one that has compromised our ability to respond to real threats to our security. But unless you are willing to take up arms and fight the next battle when it comes, step aside, and let pass those who are.


Blogger fake name said...

Or one could read Hitchens. Unlike Rich, one sees here a very cogent defense of the war, from a leftist's point of view. Indeed, it's one that this leftist happens to share.

The problem with Rich is that he's been so wrong, so often, about the use of force anywhere, including Afghanistan, that's he's difficult to read now.

I know it's important that our moral and military compasses are tuned to the lodestone of fat, effete Manhattan columnists big on britches and low in expertise on foreign policy or defense, but this is what you've given me to work with today.


First there is the tiring mantra about the Old Mother Courage foil, Cindy Sheehan, without any mention about her son's opinions in the matter. I mean, the man gave his life for his ideals, one would think his thoughts might apply here.

But he's conveniently removed by Jihadist murderers (not, as his mother would suggest, George Bush, Halliburton or Jews), so he can be properly hung on Rich's trophy room of an essay. See the brave moose, now dead. Bush lied, he died.

You say he chose his profession, and his war, and his president, and much of his family says his mother is lying and abusing his good name?

Kindly look away, readers, at truth. She has no place here in Rich's hallowed hall of trophies.

Nor do I see "utter bankruptcy" on the part of Democrats who voted to authorize war. Everyone forgets that the intelligence of the time strongly pointed to a heavily armed Saddam Hussein housing a rogue's gallery of terrorists, including Abu Nidal and my favorite bloodthirsty Islamist, Abu Musab al Zarqawi.

That Zarqawi was Bin Laden's favorite affiliate, that he continues to communicate with the Salafist leadership, that he fights a proxy war for the Jihadists and was armed and pointed at the Kurds and northern Shia by Hussein need not be mentioned by Rich.

There is nothing to see here! Please keep moving!

While he trumpets the set up of Sens. Hagel and McCain, he fails to add the punchline: They don't want to exit Iraq. Ditto retired general Barry McCaffrey, who frets about the manpower problems with the National Guard.

In fact, this trio of distinguished war heroes doesn't even want a timeline for leaving. They simply want a competent strategy to win, or at least some sort of way to tell how we're doing, or, at the very least, some adult talk from the Commander in Chief justifying the continuing bloodshed and financial largess.

Me, too. Unfortunately, you go to war with the president you have, and this one's a loser. But at least he's not a coward, which brings us back to Rich and some of his essay's strongest pillars.

"As another politician from the Vietnam era, Gary Hart, observed last week, the Democrats are too cowardly to admit they made a mistake three years ago."

As another (please, make this generation go away) politician from the Vietnam era, Gary Hart avoided the draft, too cowardly to fight in Indochina.

But he's a convenient stool for Rich to rest his fat, unreflective ass rather than getting up and making a more important point.

Which is: Rich has opposed every use of American power since Vietnam, when he took the Gary Hart route of military service.

There's nothing wrong with that. Just grow a pair and admit that you oppose any use of force, even the very existence of a large, powerful military, and be done with it. Don't dance around. If you're as pacifistic as the Quaker Oats icon, then just say it.

Don't hide behind some notion that America should pull out of Iraq because we might need the troops for Iran or Korea. Rich will oppose their use there, just as surely as he did their deployment to Afghanistan, Kosovo, Bosnia and the first war in the Gulf.

Now, just a few years ago one could shrug off the man-boobed NYT gnat as just one more child of the 60s who has yet to realize military force can do great things in the world, even in losing causes.

As a leftie, I fondly like to invoke the hallowed memories of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, American men who volunteered to fight the rise of Facism in Spain.

I would like to think that those same men -- like Hitchens today -- might find a Troskyite's critique of Saddam Hussein so persuasive.

Hussein certainly did. He very much loved to ape Stalin and Hitler. He planned to rebuild his military, begin reconstructing his illegal weapons production, and proved himself the globe's best host to Jihadis bent on killing their fellow men, so long as these men were American, or Shiite or Iranian or Israeli or, really, whomever Saddam didn't like.

But, no. The Abraham Lincoln Brigade and their fight against human rights abusers anywhere is not the muscular memory of leftist zeal we want to remember today. Instead, Rich drops words like "courage" not on men like Casey Sheehan or John McCain or Chuck Hagel, but on those manifesting the "courage" to speak out about how wrong this war is. Rich's profiles in courage feature Russ Feingold or Gary "Monkey Business" Hart.

And this is the problem with our party. The base is moving -- and, frankly, has been moving for some time -- to a bloc of appeasers, of ostrich-head-in-the-dirt idealists. They seem to believe that Iraq was a happy land of kite-flying children, that Milosevic meant no ill-will to the Albanians or that the Talibi in Kabul verily loved women, democracy and the sanctity of international borders when they weren't exporting terrorism, including sending four jet bombs to America.

Iraq isn't Afghanistan. But Iraq also isn't Vietnam, except that Rich was right to oppose the latter, and doesn't have a clue about the former.

11:14 AM

Blogger fake name said...

As for what I would like from my Commander in Chief, I shall defer to Andy Krepinevich:

3:59 PM

Blogger fake name said...

Frankly Rich, a retrospect:

"Since the administration tightly metes out the news from Afghanistan, we can only hope that the war there is being executed more effectively than the war here — even as Mr. Rumsfeld and his generals now tell us that the Taliban, once expected to implode in days, are proving Viet- Cong-like in their intractability."

Oct. 27, 2001.

Kabul fell 16 days later after a swift, unrelenting push led by U.S. special forces and their partners, the anti-Talibi coalition.

"Kuwait could very well become a quagmire."

1991, on the eve of battle in Kuwait. The ground war, famously, lasted less than three days.

But, oddly, Rich didn't originally envision today's Iraq as a "quagmire" or something akin to Vietnam. Instead, these words from 2003, where he saw a lot of Johnson-like bluster from ol' W, but no incompetence:

"It's this high-handedness that echoes the run-up to Vietnam. The analogy can be overdone, certainly, since today's armed forces are highly unlikely to find Iraq a military quagmire and no one can even try to make a case for the legitimacy of Saddam's regime. But . . . the arrogance of this C.E.O. administration . . . recalls the hubris of those Ivy League and corporate 'whiz kids' on Robert McNamara's Pentagon team who saw themselves as better and brighter than the rest of us."

5:03 PM

Blogger fake name said...

Oh, one more thing about Frank Rich. Despite his jab at the "Ivy League" hubris manifested by McNamara and Bush's I&II, it's important to remember his own pedigree.

From his official biography:

"He earned a B.A. degree in American History and Literature graduating magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1971. At Harvard, he was editorial chairman of The Harvard Crimson, an honorary Harvard College scholar, a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the recipient of a Henry Russell Shaw Traveling Fellowship."

I don't know if your blood gets much bluer. He would have been 19 during the Tet Offensive. Deferred to finish college, he saw fit to edit the Crimson while others his age fought and died in Vietnam.

Remember that the next time he raises the "chickenhawk" argument (as he's been doing most recently).

6:46 PM

Blogger geoff said...

Rich makes me wretch, too, and for essentially the same reasons as FN: He's lazy, pilfering his stands on issues from others and throwing up icons instead of arguments. His smarminess leaves me unable to appreciate those moments when I think he's got something right. Which are rare.

Hitchens is better, though it bothers me that more and more he sidesteps the best arguments of those who oppose him by conceding their points - he shrugs, says “Me too” and instead carves apart easy targets like Michael Moore and Cindy Sheehan. Then he gloats as if he's just fought off the whole continuum of opposition to this war. As if either of those two represent a reasoned criticism of the decision to invade Iraq and of the war's miserable management.

It is one thing to equate Sheehan with Moore; both are guilty of the same polarizing, sloganeering bullshit that Rich (and most of our pundits, on both sides) can't resist. It's quite another to saddle everyone who thinks this war might have been fought another way, or avoided altogether, with responsibility for Sheehan and Moore's clowning.

(Let me add not-so-quickly that I dislike Sheehan's protest only because, like FN, I think she's parroting some easy partisan bullshit instead of making a careful argument that reaches out to those who are suspicious of extremes. And some of what she's parroting is reductive and offensive, in much the same way that it is reductive and offensive to suggest that the antiwar movement is a front for a cabal of Michael Moores and Cindy Sheehans -- though Sheehan's cant has an especially unsavory history. But her memory of her son belongs to her and none of us can know whether she's honoring it or dishonoring it, notwithstanding what other members of the family, who have their own opinions to trumpet, might say. She's entitled to any demonstration she'd like, and any debate about "honor" or "dishonor" is, at best, a change of subject.)

In any case, I didn't mean to go on. I just wanted to give a link to an interesting piece about loyal opposition. I haven't read the book yet:

4:29 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

Thanks for stopping by, Geoff. I'll check out the WM piece.

5:21 PM

Blogger fake name said...

It's a sad day when the conservatives understand the fight within the party better than we do:

3:19 PM

Blogger Amos_thePokerCat said...

No it isn't. Of course, your opponent will always see your weakness before you will.

Oh, FN, your first post, 28 paragraphs, 989 words.


6:03 AM


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