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Sunday, November 26, 2006

 
Chickenhawks Part Deux

by tristero

A lot of fascinating discussion in comments to this post on chickenhawks, a subject that has more odd angles than one might originally suppose. One of the most intriguing response to my post is that two regular commenters, Jose Chung and DavidByron, who I always assumed would never agree about a thing, both strenuously objected to the notion that willingness to serve in the military confers some sort of special status in opining about Bush/Iraq. Another was DavidByron and Jill Bains' insistence that my opposition to both the Bush/Iraq war and the Afghanistan catastrophes is diluted by a barely disguised willingness to accept the premises of America's manifest destiny trope. A lot of other folks also made interesting, thought-provoking observations as well, and they all made me refine, perhaps even revise, some of my opinions on the subject. Thank you, one and all, for your contributions.

1. Jose Chung and DavidByron both seem to believe (and I'm sure they'll correct me if I'm wrong!) that the chickenhawk issue really is about whether only those with military service are qualified to opine on the subject of war. But that's not quite right. Of course, military service, or the lack of, has no genuine importance to the worth of an argument pro or con the Bush/Iraq war.* The real issue is the total cluelessness of a particular group of war advocates whose drooling enthusiasm for war isn't grounded in reality.

I tried to make it clear in my post - but it wasn't clear enough, apparently - that the hostile question, "well, if you support the war so much, why doncha serve?" is no query at all, but an angry, exasperated, assertion amounting to saying, "You don't know a damn thing about what you're talking about, or you wouldn't talk about Bush/Iraq in such a foolish, callous way." So yes, as DavidByron says, the question is a nasty, sarcastic, ad hominem attack. What makes it appropriate is that the reasoning of the chickenhawks was beyond serious discussion. Thomas Friedman's insistence that even if Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 or had WMD's, "we" still oughta whack him because "we" can. George Packer's utterly naive kumbaya-save-the-world attitude. John Podhoretz' floating the suggestion that maybe US forces should have killed more young Iraqi males at the beginning of the invasion. And, of course, the 101st Keyboarders who talk as if Mr. Kurtz's "Exterminate all of the brutes" doesn't go far enough by half.

There are various ways to respond to such garbage. Given an unlimited lifespan, I completely agree that we should examine each of the chickenhawks' assertions in detail and respond in a logical, reasoned, way. But the truth is that life is short and Friedman, Packer, Podhoretz, and many others aren't making arguments or assertions that are intended to be seriously discussed. These are crude, impulsive, thoughtless reasons to go to war - uttered from a virtual barstool - and they are usually accompanied with equally crude and thoughtless personal attacks on those who disagree: "you're not with us, you're against us!"

Since that is the level of the chickenhawks' reasoning, it makes more than enough sense - to me, but maybe not to everyone - to respond, "okay tough guy, put up or shut up." It's another way of making the point that the chickenhawks - not necessarlily ALL advocates of Bush/Iraq who didn't serve - aren't serious people. It is mocking them, not asserting in any serious way qualifications for ALL discussions. And it is a terrible tragedy that those of us opposed to the war didn't find ways to mock them earlier and in even nastier ways. Why? Because one of these profoundly unserious people is the president of the United States who was in a position to, and did, order US troops to invade, conquer, and occupy Iraq.

Is sneering mockery the ONLY weapon against idiots like Bush, or the single BEST weapon? No, and no. But it is one tactic, nevertheless, and it has its place, and its uses. It may not discredit the chickenhawks in your view, dear reader, as you are knowledgeable enough to ask deeper questions, but it has the potential to do so with others.

2. Regarding the manifest destiny business, I am, unlike DavidByron, an American. It is possible that somewhere, somehow, I buying into that ugly, dangerous, myth of exceptionalism. But I truly doubt that some unacknowledged sympathy for manifest destiny influences my attitude towards Bush/Iraq or Bush/Afghanistan. I have been consistently and publicly opposed to both long before it was fashionable and have often framed the argument by saying America has no business spreading its cooties hither and yon. We are one great country among many great countries. But America has many serious flaws and has no reason to assume that its institutions are uniquely good for everyone, or that America has the right to do as it pleases in the world.

I fail to see how anyone can be serious in asserting that these are the views of someone who advocates manifest destiny, even without realizing it.

Jill Bains, however, tries to. She wrote, "If you fail to support the Taliban and whomever else is trying to physically expel the United States from Afghanistan, then, despite all your protestations to the contrary, you become a de facto supporter of the American occupation." This is exactly the kind of false reasoning that leads others to conclude that if you're opposed to Bush/Iraq, you're "objectively pro-Saddam." I reject it because it sets up an unnecessary and false dichotomy; it requires me to align myself with moral monsters in order to "prove" the seriousness with which I oppose Bush, an alignment I utterly refuse; and because it is needlessly tendentious.

Perhaps the best response to Jill Bains' assertion is something close to what Arundhati Roy said, and I'm paraphrasing here, that a reasonable alternative to Osama bin Laden is not George W. Bush. Likewise, a reasonable alternative to Bush is not the Taliban. This, of course, goes without saying for most of us, but it bears repeating.

It is vitally important, in trying to articulate a 21st century liberalism, that liberals continue to insist upon finding and creating alternatives to this kind of false polarity. That is no easy job, but we've seen the kind of horror that quickly results when those alternatives are cavalierly swept off the table.

*Except, to a greater or lesser extent, in regards to technical issues. For instance, I am certain that General Shinseki's considerable military expertise gave him a far better sense of what a reasonable level of troop deployment might be if Iraq was invaded and occupied by a US coalition than Paul Wolfowitz. That said, I maintain that no level of troop strength could possibly have led to a result much different than the one we see today. Bush/Iraq was a stupid idea that had no chance of an acceptable outcome.


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