Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Brave Cowboys of the Junior High Lunch Room


(This post is the first of a few in honor of Memorial Day, and part of an ongoing series on war.)

With the arrival of another Memorial Day, it seems only appropriate to re-examine notions of war and military action. We're supposed to remember the fallen, but part of that entails remembering why they died. Most of all, since life witnesses enough suffering as it is, it's essential to remember and question whether certain deaths were unnecessary and avoidable, and work to prevent any repetition of those mistakes. To that end, it's important to examine the mentality that lead to unnecessary deaths in the first place. All the recent accusations of "appeasement" from the Bush administration, the neocons, and other right-wingers gives us a perfect case study of these brave cowboys of the junior high lunch room.

The Worst are Full of Obstinate Belligerency

If you read the liberal blogosphere, it'd be hard to have missed Chris Matthews' smackdown of Kevin James, but it's an excellent starting point. It's sorta funny, but also sorta disgusting. If you can bear to, watch at least part of it again:



Kevin James is an obnoxious ignoramus, and that's putting it politely. He repeats his magic word "appeasement" over and over, thinking it will somehow win him the day. He's too rude to shut up, either, refusing to answer Matthews' simple questions and also talking over the other guests after he's been shown up, but without offering anything new and certainly nothing substantial.

Matthews' discussion of the incident later with Rachel Maddow is very worthwhile, as is Barack Obama's response to the Bush "appeasement" speech that set this whole thing off.

The rebuttals are all well and good, but James' belligerent idiocy isn't just fodder for sport, it's genuinely dangerous. As noted at The Poor Man Institute:

It’s all like this. Everything is just like this. Some blank young person who has memorized a 5_x7_ index card of focus group-approved phrases, yelling, yelling, yelling over everyone. And you can say what you want, and be as right as you want, but he’s going to keep yelling, and yelling, and yelling until you get sick of it, and at the end of the day everybody knows that Barack Obama goes to secret Muslim church. Everything is like this. An election won’t fix it. This rules the world.

Kevin James in fact attempted some classic bullshitting techniques. Yes, he did so ineptly, and yes, Chris Matthews called him on it, and fact-checked him on the spot, but that sort of conduct from our press corps is depressingly rare.

The sad truth is, America has more than its fair share of Kevin Jameses, and they are rife in government, in think tanks, and among newspaper columnists and TV pundits. Most are less overtly obnoxious. Some are even slightly less ignorant. But at the most generous, these belligerent hawks are wrong, they do not learn from their mistakes, they are insistent, they are taken seriously by the Washington establishment (they basically are the Washington establishment), and for all these reasons, they are very dangerous.


Diplomacy 101

The idea that basic diplomacy is "appeasement" is asinine. Saying that all discussion is appeasement is like saying all speech is cursing. Yet the Bush administration acts as if the "silent treatment" is the height of State Department sophistication and wisdom. After Bush's speech, as Joe Biden pointed out, "Since when does this administration think that if you sit down, you have to eliminate the word 'no' from your vocabulary?" And as Biden later observed, "You either talk; you go to war; or you maintain the status quo." (Biden sorta missed one — when not going to war, the Bush administration either completely disengages or ratchets up the aggressive rhetoric to make the status quo worse — for the United States.)

Bolstering the points of the Matthews and Obama clips linked above, Eric Martin recently highlighted some key observations from Matthew Yglesias:

The problem here is that, once again, we see hawks not understanding what diplomacy is...[T]hink of diplomacy as a kind of bargaining. Like you might do at a yard sale or something. Diplomacy doesn't exist at one end of a spectrum of coercive measures -- we try war, we try sanctions, we try diplomacy -- any more than bargaining operates on a smooth continuum with robbery. The point of bargaining with a vendor is to see whether or not it's possible to find mutually acceptable terms that improve both parties' positions. In terms of diplomacy with Iran, the idea isn't that Obama's steely gaze would force concessions out of the Iranians, the idea is that we might be able to give Iran something Iran deems more valuable than weapons-grade nuclear material, and in exchange we would get verifiable disarmament.

The "something" here would presumably be some form of security assurances plus an accommodation to Iranian interests in Iraq, along with Teheran and Washington laying out a pathway to gradual normalization of relations in exchange for an end to Iranian support for terrorism and Palestinian rejectionist groups. Would it be possible to strike such a deal? Maybe, maybe not. But the purpose of a negotiating session would be to find out by attempting to do the bargaining rather than having five more years of back-and-forth blog posts speculating about the possibility. The general theory of diplomacy is that rational actors should, through negotiations, be able to achieve positive-sum settlements rather than negative-sum conflicts. It's always possible that your would-be negotiating partner will prove irrational (as George W. Bush did when he rejected Iranian peace overtures several years back) and the process will fail, but it's worth attempting in good faith. [emphasis added]

None of these ideas should be shocking, or revelatory, but as Fred Kaplan put it (via another Eric Martin post well worth reading): "The Republican administration has violated so many precepts of International Relations 101 that clichés take on the air of wisdom." The Bush administration, the neocons, and other right-wingers often seem to see diplomacy itself as a failure of war. The simple notion that "you don't make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies" probably strikes them as an alien concept, or at least heresy.

Let's allow Hilzoy to spell it out even more clearly. After checking out her lovely charts in this post, consider her argument in "Like Underpants Gnomes -- Only Evil!!!":

Of course you negotiate with enemies. And of course negotiating with them doesn't mean that you think that "some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along," any more than being willing to negotiate with a car dealer means that you think that some ingenious argument will convince him to give you a car for free. That's not what negotiations are about.

More to the point: can anyone explain to me exactly how being willing to talk to Iran is supposed to display "inexperience and reckless judgment"? Recklessness means: taking unnecessary risks. What, exactly, do we risk by talking to Iran? Is some bad thing supposed to happen as a result? If so, how?

It's the underpants gnomes again, only evil:

(1) Talk to Iran
(2) ???
(3) DISASTER!!!

If someone could explain to me what step 2 looks like, I'd be very much obliged. Because I don't see it. I certainly don't see any bad consequences of talking to Iran that would begin to compare to the results of invading Iraq. (Speaking of naivete and recklessness.)

That's not to mention that Bush fixer James Baker doesn't view talking to an enemy as appeasement, and as Joe Biden noted in his ABC interview (linked earlier), both Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates sensibly believe in negotiations as well. It was also good enough for conservative saint Ronald Reagan with the far more dangerous Soviet Union, and virtually every president before Bush. Oh, and apparently, Bush's immediate audience, Israel, also believes in negotiations with supposed enemies.


Bush, the Neocons and the Authoritarian Mindset

The Bush administration's black and white, belligerent, recklessly obtuse approach to foreign policy exemplifies all the worst aspects of authoritarian movement conservatism. Much of it comes down to aggressive tribalism. As we've explored before, for authoritarian conservatives, good and evil are defined by those in authority much more so than objective principles. And typically, that authority defines whether an individual or group is good or evil in large part according to whether someone is a member of the favored group, or an Other. Even torture, one of the most despicable, degrading and cruel acts possible, is seen as wrong when the enemy does it, but forgivable or even good when one of the Righteous does it. That's not to mention their typical braggadocio and insecure obsession with losing face. Other blogs have chronicled these dynamics at greater length, but as we noted in "Jack Bauer versus Maher Arar":

It's worth noting the warped, insecure views of masculinity that comes with this chickenhawk, I'll-torture-him-more-than-you crowd... Tough talk is what movement conservatives want. There's the tale of conservative hawk Joe Lieberman watching the action flick Behind Enemy Lines: "whenever the American military scored an onscreen hit, Lieberman pumped his fist and said, “Yeah!” and “All right!"" Recently, Lieberman has been saber-rattling irresponsibly against Iran. (As Wesley Clark put it, "Only someone who never wore the uniform or thought seriously about national security would make threats at this point.") There's conservative Ralph Peters, upset by a poll that shows that roughly half of American troops wouldn't torture a captive even given some implausible ticking bomb scenario. Really, how dare they? There's Bush's horrible idea early in his presidency that the U.S. should withdraw from mediating Arab-Israeli conflicts because ''Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things." There's Bush's angry insistence, in May 2002, that he was "going to kick [Saddam Hussein's] sorry motherfucking ass all over the Mideast." Dan Froomkin observed that it was four years ago today that Bush taunted our enemies with the line, "My answer is, bring 'em on." There's the need of "Tucker Carlson and Jonah Goldberg to search endlessly for strong, powerful, masculine figures so that they can feel those attributes and pose as one who exudes them."

Of course, there's nothing wrong with enjoying an action movie, a little escapism or a little tough talk in private, as long as one is capable of moving beyond that, or one can tell fantasy from reality. Sadly, that doesn't seem to be the case for most prominent conservatives...

Bush's "Bring it on" is the epitome of reckless bullshit bluster. Most professional athletes know better to mouth this sort of trash talk at risk of riling up their opponent, and in their case, no one's going to die as a result. Is it too much to expect the President of the United States to have at least that much sense? Those words might have made Bush feel tough, but they endangered troops and international aid workers. Let's also not forget, for one example of many, that back in 2006 Bush administration officials and prominent conservatives were "rooting" for a big nuclear test by North Korea to justify overthrowing its government. Then there's five-deferment Cheney's visions of martial glory back during the first Gulf War, where he continually pestered Schwarzkopf with crazy, horrible schemes, "the most bizarre [of which] involved capturing a town in western Iraq and offering it to Saddam in exchange for Kuwait." The people are just crazy, or reckless.

Cheney would be better off sticking to a game of Risk, where no one else would have to suffer for his consistently poor decision-making. But he's no more perceptive or reflective than diehard hawk Michael O'Hanlon, for whom the great tragedy of Iraq is not that people have died and continue to die, it's that he, Michael O'Hanlon, is criticized for being disastrously wrong (more on Hanlon and his ilk in a subsequent post, although the linked Greenwald piece is a great takedown).

We've covered Bush's immaturity in many a post, but as we covered in a piece on the pugnacious John Bolton, for this crew, belligerence and bullying are core principles. As the New Yorker reported:

Scowcroft suggested that the White House was taking the wrong advice, and listening to a severely limited circle. He singled out the Princeton Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis, who was consulted by Vice-President Cheney and others after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Lewis, Scowcroft said, fed a feeling in the White House that the United States must assert itself. “It’s that idea that we’ve got to hit somebody hard,” Scowcroft said. “And Bernard Lewis says, ‘I believe that one of the things you’ve got to do to Arabs is hit them between the eyes with a big stick. They respect power.’ ” Cheney, in particular, Scowcroft thinks, accepted Lewis’s view of Middle East politics.

Or there's the perfect embodiment of neocon philosophy, as coined by inveterate liar Michael Ledeen, and quoted approvingly by Jonah Goldberg:

Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.

There's plenty of evidence for this mindset among the Bushies, but Bolton's idea of diplomacy is to punch someone in the face. Cheney's idea of good Middle East policy with Arabs is to show them who's boss, with no consideration for the simple truth that humiliation breeds enmity in virtually everybody, and one might argue especially in Arab cultures (consider Abu Ghraib). I hope the insecure machismo of Ledeen and Goldberg is painfully apparent. But basically — and this really shouldn't be a shock — the imperialist approach breeds resentment in those on the receiving end. At the most fundamental level, the Bush administration has consistently moved away from a paradigm of wary, sober cooperation and even vibrant competition to one of belligerence, dominance and submission. They simply do not know how to relate to other nations as a friend, only as a bully — and then are shocked and indignant when others are not publicly grateful and praiseworthy toward their actions.

Rumsfeld shouldn't be forgotten, either, especially his penchant for expressing commonly-held right-wing notions in private luncheons with Pentagon aides:

But by far the most extraordinary part of this luncheon is the antipathy the gathered members exhibit toward the American people for having the temerity to vote the Democrats back into power. When Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong bemoans the lack of "sympathetic ears" on Capitol Hill, Rumsfeld offers that the American people lack "the maturity to recognize the seriousness of the threats." What's to be done? According to Rumsfeld, "The correction for that, I suppose, is [another] attack."

This contempt for the American public coupled with consistently horrible judgment has made for disastrous consequences. But Bush's "appeasement" charges are part of a long-standing right-wing tradition, as Barbara O'Brien examined in "The Power of (Right Wing) Myth." It's the same mentality that fuels the right-wing's angry rage over the stab in the back myth on Vietnam, and, well, just about everything. (It's also an inaccurate, dangerous view shared by John McCain, that informs his horrible Iraq policy as well.)

Bush invoking the appeasement of Hitler fails on many other levels, as well. Brian at Incertus explains some of the problems with the Chamberlain analogy, the Poor Man Institute explores the problems with WWII analogies in general, author Lynne Olson explains how Bush is much more like Chamberlain than Churchill, and that's not to mention how ludicrous it is that Bush is accusing anyone of appeasing Nazis given his own family history.

There's another element in this saga that deserves mention. White House spokesperson Dana Perino at first denied that Bush was talking about Obama, and took a swipe at Obama, saying that "I understand that when you are running for office sometimes you think the world revolves around you. That is not always true and it is not true in this case." However, she also admitted Bush's comments did include Obama, and the White House in unofficial statements confirmed that Bush was in fact talking about Obama. Dan Froomkin's "A Ludicrous Denial" is a thorough examination of the White House lies on this point, as well as the many problems with Bush's appeasement speech.

Of course, it didn't end there. There were those who still insisted that Bush wasn't talking about Obama, and several conservatives accused Obama of being overly sensitive or "prickly" (which seems to be a favorite conservative smear against Obama now). Perhaps the masterpiece of bullshit on this was Peter Wehner's short response at National Review. Dissecting it could use its own post, perhaps, and it's too much to expect Wehler to acknowledge that Bush did not offer a "substantive" or "careful" argument himself, or that Bush's approach is horribly unwise. But after some Clinton-bashing, Wehrer delivers a straw man misrepresentation of Obama's general foreign policy and his specific response, and calls him "thin-skinned, a bit rattled, and prickly." He then end with this:

Obama and the Democrat’s DefCon 1 response to the president’s speech to the Knesset is a perfect illustration of the kind of tiresome “old politics” we really don’t need. The early media reports I heard of Bush’s speech didn’t even mention the appeasement line; it was only after Obama’s campaign and other Democrats exploded in (manufactured) fury that it became a political issue at all. Or, perhaps more accurately, a “distraction.” Which is exactly what I thought Obama was trying to move us away from.

Get that? Bush's attacks, widely seen as rather extraordinary, weren't out of line, but Obama's response was. Yes, Wehler's trying to sell the ridiculous idea that Bush is serious, trying to solve the problems of the world, and that despite the glaring relevance of Obama's views on such matters given the election, somehow Obama's response is a "distraction" from Bush's serious-and-oh-so-wise statecraft (he's also suggesting that responding to Bush's attacks is somehow hypocritical of Obama). Style points to Wehler, I suppose, for working in the whole nuclear threat his crew is trying to scare America with by mentioning "DefCon 1." Still, most of all, Wehler's playing an old conservative game: fling outrageous bullshit at a liberal and then accuse him or her of being thin-skinned when he or she punches back forcefully. Even by concern troll and National Review standards, Wehler's piece is pretty weak stuff.

Bush refused to acknowledge he was slamming Obama in his speech even when asked about it directly by NBC's Richard Engel, who conducted a much tougher interview than Bush is accustomed to. Dan Froomkin covered this development well in "The President vs. the Peacock," noting that:

It doesn't take a trained psychologist to observe that Bush got angrier and angrier as the Engel interview went on. That obviously had nothing to do with the editing; it had to do with Engel's questions.

Bush typically sits down with interviewers from Fox News -- or, more recently, Politico-- where he can count on more than his share of ingratiating softballs. But Engel, a fluent Arabic speaker who has logged more time in Iraq than any other television correspondent, assertively confronted Bush with the ramifications of his actions in the Middle East.

In other words, someone in the same room as Bush pushed him for straight answers, not only on the target of his appeasement smears, but on the very real, glaring consequences of his foreign policy, in a "careful" and "substantive" way. As we've seen before, that doesn't go over well with Bush, and Froomkin also chronicles the White House's unusually aggressive attacks on NBC over the piece.

Bush was definitely slamming Obama, by the White House's own admission. But did he have another agenda? Cernig saw the speech as "a wink and a nod" toward Israel that it could or should attack Iran, while The New York Times editorial board (via another Froomkin piece) pondered whether it was a "breathtakingly cynical" gambit by Bush to admonish Israel for its plan to negotiate with Syria. Impressively, though, no matter what Bush's motivations, his speech remains highly questionable and extremely objectionable.

So, to recap, Bush evoked inaccurate historical analogies as the keystone of a shoddy argument for a reckless foreign policy approach his own actions have painfully repudiated, in large part to smear the leading Democratic candidate, but Bush didn't have the guts to name him, and was even too cowardly to own up to it under direct questioning. Oh, and in petulant retaliation, he unleashed the hounds on those who dare to question his bullshit. (Same old, same old.)


The Junior High Lunch Room

Not surprisingly, the Bush foreign policy approach is strikingly similar to the mindset of authoritarian religious conservatives. In this view, it's dangerous to talk to an "enemy," because one might be tempted, just as an upright, righteous man might be tempted by devil women, liquor, porn or well, culture. The flesh, the mind, and any capacity for rational decision-making is weak; people can't be trusted to make their own choices, because then they might the wrong ones. Many prominent movement conservatives really do see themselves in a good versus evil battle both abroad and domestically, and once you've defined someone as Hitler, the Devil — or a liberal — it's awfully hard to sit down and talk. As we've explored before, most of movement conservatism really is exemplified by the Two Minute Hate in Orwell's 1984 (which Rove and Cheney apparently read not as a cautionary tale, but a how-to manual).

But there's another metaphor that always strikes me with the Bush administration, the neocons, and other right-wingers. In their reckless, arrogant cowboy diplomacy, they really are little more than insecure junior high school boys. Granted, Cheney especially is an extremely devious, sophisticated operator, but his outlook is not that far removed from say, Jonah Goldberg's. The Bushies' views on diplomacy really come down to, "Don't talk to Iran, and definitely don't sit with Iran at lunch." Make a big show of not sitting with them, and make sure everyone knows you're snubbing them. And anyone who does sit with them or talk to them is a traitor! The Bushies pick fights to prove how tough they are, often against weaker kids. Going a bit younger than junior high, they're scared of getting cooties from the Dirty Friggin' Hippies or the Muslims or those gays. And really, there's no demographic more insecure and more apt to talk tough to prove their manhood than the junior high school boy. The Bushies' entire approach to everything is that of an insecure bully, terrified of being found out, obsessed with dominance and submission, petrified of looking weak, traveling in packs, picking unnecessary fights and attacking and trying to humiliate others before they can do the same to them.

I say all this having been a junior high school boy, and from later having to teach and coach some, not that one needs either experience to be familiar with the basic mentality (and not that I was much of a terror myself). But I do remember the swagger, the boasting, and (to date myself) since Reagan was president, all the Cold War paranoia and rhetoric (although I'd say it was less pronounced in the 80s than in the 50s and 60s). I grew up in the D.C. area, and for many kids, hating those damn Ruskies was an article of faith, and a public ritual to affirm solidarity, akin to hating the Dallas Cowboys (although honestly, some probably hated the Cowboys more). There were some who really, really dived into gleeful, tribal hatred of the Soviets — and you can now find some of that crowd on right-wing blogs extolling the virtues of Red Dawn. But there were also some of us who did realize, even at that young age, that all of these rituals of public hatred and animosity were largely bullshit, partially tipped off by the fact that the folks who were doing the demonizing were mostly smug assholes full of shit on most everything else. I had a good friend who was obsessed with military matters, military history, and war films, and we all saw Red Dawn and Rambo too. But we thought Red Dawn started all right but was sorta lame, and we liked the action of Rambo because we were junior high school boys, but I don't think we all bought the Vietnam stab-in-the-back stuff if we even noticed (Son of Rambow is a great little film, by the way). Plus, there was the anti-war slant of War Games in the same era, an immensely popular movie.

The thing is, for all our bluster and tough talk, even my military-adoring buddy understood that war wasn't pretty. His favorite film was probably Kelly's Heroes, but he had seen them all, and would sometimes describe some gruesome scenes, and there would be the usual "Boy, that's cool!" sheen, but also a "Boy, that would really suck" awareness. Yeah, he'd root for the Americans, but he had some German ancestors and didn't demonize the Germans, and admired their tanks. Maybe it's because it's really hard to grow up in the D.C. area without knowing some vets, but while we certainly shared in "the juvenile glorification of war" that Bernard Chazelle describes so well in this post, no one thought nuclear war was a good thing, and we did understand on some level that war was hell. We were cocky, but we were actually open to learning. But we were definitely cocky. I remember after Reagan attacked somewhere, one of our gang was uncharacteristically a bit upset by the whole thing, and being a smartass, I quipped something like, "Well, what's the use of being a superpower if you can't abuse it once in a while?" My buddy laughed, and I got a few high-fives for it. But I was just being a smartass, and I think we all knew on some level it was bullshit bluster. Talking tough, taking an ironic, smartass attitude, all of it was armor to protect from anxiety over the Cold War, the state of world, and much more importantly, all the usual crap teenagers have to go through.

Like the Editors at The Poor Man Institute, I've often thought that perhaps "world peace could be attained if people would agree to settle all military disputes through video games - all the excitement and trash talk of war, without the unpleasant bits." The key factor is that for the Bushies, they never really grew up, and never truly developed self-reflection. In their minds, their villains are almost always external, and they themselves can rarely if ever do wrong. Some kids start off more inclined to bullying than others, but there are environmental factors, and a series of decisions for each individual as well. I have to believe everyone at some point has been on the receiving end of some bullying or unfair treatment. However unconsciously, however gradually, I think most people also do make a key psychological decision about how they react to that sort of thing, by trying to be fair to others, or by becoming a bully themselves. It's more complex than that, of course, since some people tend to be pacifists, some go with the flow whatever it is, some are tough fighters for justice, some jealously guard their own turf but mainly just want to protect themselves and their family or community, and some are genuine bullies and villains. But on one level the fairness-versus-bully response really sums up the liberal-conservative divide, at least when it comes to movement conservatism. As Johann Hari wrote about a National Review cruise:

There is something strange about this discussion, and it takes me a few moments to realize exactly what it is. All the tropes conservatives usually deny in public--that Iraq is another Vietnam, that Bush is fighting a class war on behalf of the rich--are embraced on this shining ship in the middle of the ocean. Yes, they concede, we are fighting another Vietnam; and this time we won't let the weak-kneed liberals lose it. "It's customary to say we lost the Vietnam war, but who's 'we'?" Dinesh D'Souza asks angrily. "The left won by demanding America's humiliation." On this ship, there are no Viet Cong, no three million dead. There is only liberal treachery. Yes, D'Souza says, in a swift shift to domestic politics, "of course" Republican politics is "about class. Republicans are the party of winners, Democrats are the party of losers."

Two last thoughts on the junior high metaphor. One, there's a reason that we, as immature junior high school boys, were not asked to set American foreign policy. Two, even as cocky, tough-talking junior high school boys, I think we better appreciated the consequences of war than the Bush administration ever has. That may be scarier than the Cold War ever was.

If my language and judgment throughout this post seems harsh (not that it can compare to that of the Bushies), there are a few reasons. One is that the Bush administration's foreign policy has been disastrous, and many people have suffered needlessly and died as a result. That really cannot be emphasized enough. Another is that, alarmingly, as Glenn Greenwald has repeatedly demonstrated, the Beltway foreign policy establishment still views unnecessary, unfounded and counterproductive hawkishness as "serious" and wise, while they view actual wisdom and common sense as silly and soft, and ridicule those who espouse it. Our national political discourse is still almost entirely dominated by people who either got it wrong on Iraq, or didn’t challenge the administration nearly enough, and they still haven’t learned a damn thing. Meanwhile, the folks who got it right are still mostly shut out and cut off from the microphone. The scoundrels and knaves have prospered while those 'foolish' enough to see and tell the truth have mostly paid a price. (It seems to me someone wrote a play about that once.)

Put simply, stupidity is a social norm in Washington elite circles. If that stupidity was regulated only to their personal lives and the ostentatious spending of their disposable income, these people would remain figures of ridicule, but they would not be nearly so dangerous. Lest there be any pearl-clutching about nasty language, let us remember: George W. Bush hasn't stuck with his reckless, disastrous policies despite glaring evidence of the wreckage just because no one ever pointed out his mistakes to him in a polite enough fashion. It's been tried. The same goes for the media and their colossal mistakes, most of all in the run-up to the war. Even in pretty forgiving circumstances, they still won't admit their errors. Sorry, that ain't on us bloggers and citizens. And it's certainly no vice to speak out to try to prevent the same mistakes from being made all over again.

Personally, I'd much prefer to be writing mostly about the arts (although Shakespeare, for one, was one helluva a political philosopher, so some politics would be inevitable). But when my government launches unnecessary wars of choice, when people die and are tortured and suffer, all in the name of my safety and America, and those in power in politics and the press mostly don't give a damn about radical actions that violate core American principles, well then, something needs to be said. Anyone who thinks a few rude words are the problem, or thinks that calling someone a war criminal is worse than being a war criminal has their head up their fucking ass.

I, and many other far more prominent bloggers, I'm sure, are happy to call bullshit in more polite, nuanced language in more genteel venues. But here's a radical idea. What if we don't listen to the people who have been repeatedly, disastrously wrong and still not only can't tell us why, but can't even admit it? Why don't we instead listen to the people who've been consistently right, and do so before it's too late? If there's one thing Bush's speech — and the past eight years — should remind us of, it's that we cannot afford any more appeasement of foolish, unrepentant warmongers.


(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

4 comments:

crusades sources said...

This is a really good post, as it draws together so many themes and threads. I especially enjoyed your self-revelatory vignettes.

One thing that has struck me repeatedly in discussions of hawkery is the equation of masculinity with dominance. You're not a man unless you can invade a small country, show everybody who's boss, keep control of your womenfolk, etc. Obviously not all men see masculinity in this way, but enough of them do to make this viewpoint dangerous. (Remember Tom Friedman's "suck on this" line?)

So I'd like to hear more discussion amongst bloggers and pundits about the destructive tendencies of a dominance-based masculinity. It has the potential to hurt not just women, or small countries, but men themselves. It's the elephant in the room. A recent NOW story on sexual assault in the military showed how easily female soldiers can be victimized, but it never touched on what seems to me like an obvious cause: dominance-based masculinity is (maybe has to be) enshrined in the armed forces.

A final point: you recommend not listening to the chickenhawks. But how exactly do we do that, when at least until January 2009 they have their fingers on the button?

Batocchio said...

Crusades Sources, you raise some good points.

Yup, I remember the "suck on this" line — I just couldn't include everything, and I was trying to focus on the Bushies here, but you're right, it's a classic. Friedman and the other pundits deserve their own excoriation — and many other blogs have done so, as they should continue. (I've read that YouTube clips of Friedman's line keep getting yanked, and there's some speculation that's due to Friedman being prickly. I don't know.)

My previous post actually linked that NOW story. I'd phrase the issue a bit differently perhaps, but there's definitely a problem with people in positions of power, mostly men, defining strength in terms of dominating and humiliating others. Challenging abuses of power should be a priority for everyone, but that's a general principle. I don't want to lose sight of the specific problem of sexual assault in the military. There's a social norm there among men that is toxic to women, and while no one should have to go through that, it's an especially egregious breach of trust with women in the military, particularly if in a combat zone, to have to worry about that in the slightest. And when the abuser is a superior officer, it's especially horrendous.

On the chickenhawks thing, I'll have more in some subsequent posts and some of the links discuss it in more length. I'd say there are at least two things that need to happen. One, bullshit like Bush's speech needs to be challenged while he's still in power, as it was this time, refreshingly so. There's no doubt he controls a large microphone, but when Obama rebuts Bush or others, he's got a pretty big microphone now as well. Two, the entire cottage industry of warmongering pundits (some of them self-described liberals) needs to be discredited and stop being deferred to, especially given that the their policies have clearly been disastrous. In most industries, they'd be fired by now. I don't want to see any Michael O'Hanlons in the next administration, certainly not in any position of power and definitely not in the majority. Basically, I'd say hawkish bullshit needs to be challenged, forcefully, no matter who utters it. Any other ideas?

debg said...

Batocchio, this is really my screenname--since I hadn't commented on your blog before, my Google sign-in came up with a totally funky once for me (though I am a crusades historian).

Obama has done a terrific job firing back at stupidity lately. My partner and I just sit and cheer when we see clips of him attacking "appeasement" and other such nonsense. But those of us who read progressive blogs are often just talking to each other (just like conservatives, and just like historians!). Glenn Greenwald, Digby, you, and all the other folks who write about this don't get the kind of public exposure that you need. I wish I had some good ideas for message force multipliers. Maybe inspiration will come to me, and I'll pass along anything I think up.

Batocchio said...

Haha. You're right that we can wind up talking to ourselves, although it has to start somewhere! And Digby and Greenwald - two of the sharpest out there, IMO - do get more exposure than I do. Greenwald in particular is getting more MSM appearances. I don't care who it is, I just would like some people of common sense - and some actual liberals - to get air time. Greenwald has a couple great posts on the media up as of yesterday you may have seen, and I hope to post on later. What's most annoying is that the majority of Americans share those views now, even if they perhaps can't give as detailed a critique.

As for the Crusades thing, that's neat. I imagine you could write some interesting things about our Middle East policy... If you really get fired up to do so, you may want to start a free Blogger blog or submit a post or two to a group blog.

I am more hopeful these days that Obama, Clinton, Biden, Pelosi and others hit Bush back on this stuff, though. It really is a nice development, long overdue.