Posts from August 2004

Whose Side Are You On?

In his comments on my post yesterday, Mark Noonan asks what my answer to his challenge is–to wit:

We’ve given the left a pass long enough — its [sic] time for those who are of leftwing opinion to make their final call: which side of the river are you on? If you’re on America’s side, then you want total and overwhelming US victory — and just to really spell it out; this means that our enemies are dead or begging for mercy. I challenge you — choose, and let you be known for what you are by what you choose — patriot, or traitor.

The easy answer would be to say that I don’t take the challenge seriously (which I don’t) and that I regard the question Do you want complete American victory in Iraq, or are you of another opinion? as fundamentally confused (which I do). However, perhaps it will be best to lead off by repeating what I said the last time Mr. Noonan asked me for my opinion on the matter:

Finally, even if you were to convince me that Kennedy is entirely in the wrong, I could not possibly see it as an instance of the general principle that you set out: “If you’re on America’s side, then you want total and overwhelming US victory — and just to really spell it out; this means that our enemies are dead or begging for mercy.” It could not be an instance of that principle because the principle is jingoistic claptrap that is obviously and wretchedly false–not to mention dangerous to basic points of republican virtue.

The highest form of love is the love of the virtue in the beloved, and those who are truly “on America’s side”–in any sense of the word that would make it an attitude worth having–are those who want America to live up to its better self. Whether that involves victory in war or not depends entirely on whether the war in question is just or unjust; even if you are right (as I think you are not) that support for this war is righteous, the idea of extending unconditional support for victory in any war that the United States government has committed itself to strikes me as nothing more than belligerent foolishness.

To that I should only add that, as I have argued in The War on Iraq One Year On and What You Mean “We”?, the assault on Iraq and the on-going occupation were not and are not, in fact, anything approaching just or righteous, and that it is becoming more obvious with every day just how ridiculous the demand to take a side is–where the only sides on offer are the Imperial Legions of the United States and the newly sovereign Iraqi junta, on the one side, and terrorist jihadis aligned with thugs such as Muqtada al-Sadr, on the other. If those are the two sides of the river, I would rather drown.

I am not on the United States government’s side. Nor am I on the jihadis’ side. (As a secessionist republic of one, I have an official policy of non-alignment in this conflict.) I don’t think that loyalty to any side in any conflict is, or can be, a virtue unless it is conditioned by loyalty for the truth and for justice, and what I’ve repeatedly argued in this space is that there is precious little of those in the Bush Administration’s case for war or practice of the war and occupation. (And the same, of course, goes for Mr. al-Sadr and his militia.) If I am on anyone’s side, it is innocent Iraqis who continue to be caught in the crossfire and to have their freedoms squelched, their rights trodden upon, their dignity insulted, and their lives and livelihoods destroyed, by two gangs caught in a bloody, apparently endless turf war.

The best thing that the U.S. government could achieve at this point would be to make it right to what degree they can. And that would mean:complete and immediate withdrawal, an official apology, and war reparations to Iraqi civilians maimed or dispossessed by the war and occupation–or to their heirs if they were among the tens of thousands killed. (The funds for reparations should, ideally, be expropriated from the personal fortunes of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, Tom Daschle, John Kerry, Tom DeLay, Tony Blair, Jack Straw, José Maria Aznar, Saddam Hussein, Uday and Qusay Hussein, Tariq Aziz, Ahmad Chalabi, et cetera.)

That’s not “complete victory,” in any sense, but there is an important sense in which–since “victory” is, by definition, something worth having, and since it is not worthwhile to achieve dominance in an unjust war–there is no victory possible for the American military in Iraq. There is only conquest. And mere conquest is not something worth having, nor is it something worth wishing for your friends to have.

The Conservative Tradition

Isn’t it great to know that the intellectual bodyguard of the party currently in power in Washington stands for limited government and individual liberty? So much so that when Ted Kennedy–one of their most hated opponents, but also a man a man whose presence on an aeroplane poses no threat to anyone else–is prevented from boarding a plane because of a secret, unaccountable, government no-fly list forced on private airline companies by the fiat of the Executive Branch of government, and which has been repeatedly used in acts of political harassment, one can certainly count on them to make a bold, principled denunciation of this shameless invasion on civil liberties by a overbearing government. For example, here’s National Review Online on the incident:

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE [Steve Hayward]

Ted Kennedy on the no-fly list? Supply your own punchline.

Posted at 08:12 PM

Ho, ho, ho. Nor is this the first time that American conservatism has extended this sort of charity towards Mr. Kennedy:

So, I ask the question – is Senator Kennedy a traitor who says things which give aid and comfort to the enemy, or is he just plain and simple stupid? There are no other options on this – pick one, or the other.

Let us be clear about this — there are legitimate criticisms to be made about the liberation of Iraq; about whether or not we should have gone in, and about the manner in which we went in, and about how we have performed since we went in; there are, however, no legitimate criticisms to be raised about the reason we went in, nor can there be any legitimate point for an American to make other than that we should be doing more to win this fight. To criticise the reasons we went in and/or to do anything which indicates an unwillingness to see this thing through to final victory is the statement of a fool, or a traitor. No two ways about it.

We’ve given the left a pass long enough — its [sic] time for those who are of leftwing opinion to make their final call: which side of the river are you on? If you’re on America’s side, then you want total and overwhelming US victory — and just to really spell it out; this means that our enemies are dead or begging for mercy. I challenge you — choose, and let you be known for what you are by what you choose — patriot, or traitor.

— Blockheads for Bush 2004/04/09: Is this treason, or stupidity?

I have to disagree, though, with Jeffrey Tucker’s suggestion that this sort of good-hearted charity and principled defense of liberty is a new trend in modern-day conservatism. It is actually a long-standing tradition of the Right, from the Old Right’s defense of peace and prosperity for all:

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary to abolish the Negro race, proper methods should be used. Among these are guns, bows and arrows, slingshots and knives…. All whites are created equal with certain rights, among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of dead niggers.

— Senator James Eastland, addressing a rally of the White Citizens Council in 1956

… to the vigorous defense of liberty and principled opposition to all forms of invasive power by the leading lights of the New Right, such as the folks behind the National Review:

the thus far invincible aggressiveness of the Soviet Union imminently threatens U.S. security, … we have to accept Big Government for the duration–for neither an offensive nor defensive war can be waged given our present government skills, except through the instrument of a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores…

And if they deem Soviet power a menace to our freedom (as I happen to), they will have to support large armies and air forces, atomic energy, central intelligence, war production boards, and the attendant of centralization of power in Washington — Even with Truman at the reins of it all.

–William F. Buckley, The Commonweal, 25 January 1952

Thank God Above for the Right: they’ve been staunch defenders of an orderly freedom for lo these many years. And by orderly freedom, of course, I mean the freedom to take orders from an all-powerful righteous government. Or else.

Further reading

Schadenfreude

photo: Alan Keyes accepts the Republican nomination for Senator of Illinois in August 2004

Whether he’s making sense or not, Alan Keyes does not photograph well.

I honestly have no idea whatsoever who will come out ahead in the elections this upcoming November. (I think Kerry has a lot going for him but also seems to be showing some of the Democrats’ pluck at pulling defeat from the jaws of victory.) But however things may look, here is one happy little note to remember as this election season progresses:

No matter how things go in November, Alan Keyes is almost certain to lose.

And that, my friends, is something to celebrate. Mazel tov!

Further reading:

No Pity. No Shame. No Silence.

If you don’t read feministe, you really should. Here’s one reason why:

Last week I came across this at MetaFilter:

I wondered for a moment what it would look like if just for one day, everyone who had survived sexual violence were visible as a survivor, if we could actually see the extent of it, if we could all know just how very not-alone we are. I wondered how angry and sad it would make me to know. I wondered how much power there might be in the truth.

She ends her post with:

I’m Hanne. I’m a survivor of sexual violence.

No Pity. No Shame. No Silence.

Both the LiveJournal post and the MetaFilter post have a long string of comments — some heart-breaking, some infuriating. In fact, misia, the original poster, had to shut down comments after receiving nearly one thousand of them during the first twenty-four hours after her post.

This post seems to have incited a movement of sorts, at least within the LiveJournal universe; people are making buttons and banners; people are coming out of the survivor closet.

— SB, at feministe, 2004-08-15

I have nothing to add. This is far more important, and far more powerful, than anything I could say. Go read. Now.

The Long Memory

CSPAN is always a bit hard-up for programming at 12 in the morning, except when a marathon Congressional debate happens to be stretching into the long, cold hours. Tonight they’ve managed to do–maybe without realizing it–quite a public service, for those who had the chance to see it: they replayed, in its entirety, a remarkable episode of the Dick Cavett show from 1971, featuring a debate between a 27-year-old John F. Kerry, representing Vietnam Veterans for the War, and John O’Neill, representing a small administration front-group calling itself Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace. In a generation endlessly bombarded with pre-packaged popcult nostalgia, where whole channels are devoted to sit-com reruns and to musical has-beens, this is something unique, and valuable: a chance to sit your fat ass in front of the television and see some actual political history–some of the stuff that people were actually worried about in the 1970s. Of course, that remembering and witnessing basic points of the political debate at a time so recent in living memory counts as mining history, by the standards of our day, is sad enough in itself–but that is another diatribe for another time.

JohnKerryInfrontofCongress1971.jpg

John Kerry testifies before Congress in 1971

As for the show itself: it’s interesting, but I’m not really that concerned with the current well-publicized flap between Mr. Kerry and Mr. O’Neill, or how the Cavett debate illuminates it. It’s obvious that Mr. O’Neill is a two-bit character assassin; and it’s also obvious that he’s a dishonest tool. You could tell that from his recent appearances, and you could tell it from his endless, vituperative red herrings from the encounter in 1971. Nothing new here. And while I do think that the tenor and the conduct of the debate–where, for all of Mr. O’Neill’s interruptions and hectoring, Mr. Kerry’s tightly-argued case was given the space and time and moderation to win the audience over by force of reason–is remarkable as a point of contrast to Howler Monkey cognitive style that is so favored in contemporary public debate, that’s also not what grabs my attention most tonight. What I’m more interested in is what Mr. Kerry said then, when he was younger and wiser:

I want to know why we can’t set a date when we know that the prisoners will come home, when we know that people will stop being maimed for the most senseless purpose in the world …

Whether or not the group on the other side knows it or not–in fact, they should change their name from Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace to Vietnam Veterans for a Continued War because that in fact is really what Vietnamization is. It is nothing more than a way of getting the United States out of Vietnam by changing the colors of the bodies in that country. It’s a military solution in a problem that requires a very, very sophisticated political solution. And all that it will do in the end is possibly intricate us into a much, much deeper war than we are in now or at least allow us to withdraw in time for the elections of next year when the president can say, Yes, indeed, we did withdraw, at which time more Americans will have lost their lives and more Vietnamese will have lost their lives needlessly.

The bigger issue at hand is the question literally of how the United States is going to get out of Vietnam now, and I have said again and again this evening that we can set a date, that we can bring the prisoners home, but the point is I think this administration is still seeking some kind of victory over there.

as long as you do not settle the political question of how the Vietnamese communists are going to fit in to some kind of regime, as long as you continue the hypocrisy of saying that we are fighting for a democracy when you have a regime which only recently passed a law which may not let them have other candidates in an election, which has some 40 thousand to 100 to 200 thousand political prisoners in jail, which 14 days ago closed down–excuse me–10 days ago closed down 14 newspapers because they printed a key speech about the corruption of the government, as long as we’re supporting this kind of government that doesn’t allow representative forces to be part of it, you are asking for trouble, and that’s what we’re doing.

But I’m glad you’ve raised the question of the Pentagon Papers because I think that … they are a terribly, terribly important aspect of what has happened because they do show–well, they show a great many things and they are partially incomplete, but they certainly show the duplicity and the deceit which has been involved in building up this war because clearly there was a peace candidate who ran in 1964 who was not a peace candidate, and clearly we had–we were committing aggressive acts against–covert warfare against Laos and against North Vietnam prior–without telling the American people. We’ve been bombing Laos now for seven years, and only this year the American people were told, and I think that this typifies a great deal of the most recent approach of the American government to the people, that they’ve shown a kind of disdain for the ability of the American people to determine for themselves the difference between right and wrong, and I think clearly that when it comes to a question of sending men off to fight and to die, the people of this country have the ability to make that decision for themselves.

–John F. Kerry, on the Dick Cavett show in 1971. You can read a decent full transcript online from an anti-John Kerry hatchet site.

JohnKerry2004.jpg

John Kerry hangs out in Congress, 2004

What is it about walking in the halls of power that has put John Kerry so far away from the man who said these words in 1971, with a sense of urgency and earnest moral conviction? When did the mental and moral rot of national honor and winning the peace sink in? Why doesn’t he seem to believe, anymore, that we have a real duty to honestly account for the human costs of a seemingly endless, futile counter-insurgency war?

Why doesn’t he see how living up to his younger seriousness and earnestness would help him (both morally and practically)? Is it controversial, at this point, that Vietnam was a dreadful mistake? How much longer will it be controversial that the Iraq war and the ongoing occupation are also dreadful mistakes, for almost exactly the same reasons as in Vietnam? Why doesn’t Kerry feel that he can connect with the people he’s trying to win over on these grounds? (Hell, when Kerry is facing a steady barrage of character-assassination over how he spent the late 1960s and early 1970s, why aren’t the Democrats paying to run the tapes of this show during prime-time?)

And why don’t we, as citizens, remember what it was like then, and what he was like then? Why can’t we do a better job of urging Mr. Kerry to live up to his best self, and hold him to the standards that he set for himself three decades ago?

Utah Phillips put it this way, and I think he was right: The long memory is the most radical idea in America.

In other news, Senator Kerry tried to head off charges of inconsistent dithering by announcing the other day that he still would have voted for the Iraq war even if he’d known it was all a bunch of goddamned lies. Mr. Bush responded by claiming that this vindicated his bunch of goddamned lies and attempted to slam Mr. Kerry by saying My opponent has found a new nuance–apparently suggesting that nuanced political positions are a sign of weakness. May God continue to bless America, and may God have mercy on our souls.

Further reading