September 12, 2003

Sullivan's slurs

In this typically nasty and mendacious post, Andrew Sullivan helpfully reminds us that, for some conservatives, the real enemies in the war on terror are the millions of decent, patriotic, hard-working Americans who happen to disagree with this president about the best way to go about defeating the Islamist threat.

My friend Lawrence Kaplan had a terrific little piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. Terrific because it put its finger on how quickly a cultural and political divide emerged in the war on terror. By and large, the Democratic party is now opposed to continuing this war, as currently envisaged, and want to wind it down as fast as possible, seeking diplomacy over force, denying the nexus of terror in the Middle East, eager to undo the new mechanisms law enforcement has to prevent future terrorist attacks, while engaging in Dowd-like attempts to embarrass and infantillize the men and women with the dreadful responsibility for our security. Listening to the Democratic debate earlier this week, I was amazed at how few had any strategic plans for taking the war to the enemy, how the very concept of 'enemy' seemed to unnerve and embarrass them. Similarly, the New York Times, a paper that witnessed first-hand the terror, now prefers to use the occasion of the anniversary for a classic piece of moral equivalence, comparing the murder of 3,000 innocents to the U.S. complicity in a coup in Chile thirty years ago. For these people, the first instinct is always, always, always, that the United States is morally suspect. They haven't changed. The moral clarity after 9/11 terrified them. They wanted it to go away so badly so they could switch the conversation back to the faults and evils of America.

Okay, let's try to clean up this truly odious dreck one piece at a time.

1) "By and large, the Democratic party is now opposed to continuing this war, as currently envisaged, and want to wind it down as fast as possible..."

As usual, Andrew provides precisely zero links or citations to back up this claim. Personally, I don't know a single Democrat who feels that way about the war on terror. But I'm sure Andrew has in his hand the names of 57 individuals who do.

2) "seeking diplomacy over force..."

No. We seek competent, effective diplomacy to go along with the use of force, so that the US doesn't find itself isolated in a world that's more than a little intimidated by our overwhelming military, economic and cultural power.

3) "denying the nexus of terror in the Middle East..."

Is Andrew really suggesting that the Democratic party, "by and large" (remember, that's the breadth of the brush he's painting with here), doesn't see a link between the Middle East and terrorism? Of course not. He's just trying to imply that Saddam was connected to the monsters behind 9/11 without actually saying so, because there's no evidence (thus far, at least) to support the allegation.

4) "eager to undo the new mechanisms law enforcement has to prevent future terrorist attacks..."

Who's afraid of the Patriot Act? Well, any number of unamerican types, I guess. Including the 111 Republicans who recently voted in the House to roll back some of its more dubious provisions. (See how easy it is to add a simple citation? At least when what you're saying is, well, true.)

5) "while engaging in Dowd-like attempts to embarrass and infantillize the men and women with the dreadful responsibility for our security."

Here's noted lefty David Brooks on Team Bush: "The Bush administration has the most infuriating way of changing its mind. The leading Bushies almost never admit serious mistakes. They never acknowledge that they are listening to their critics. They never even admit they are shifting course. They don these facial expressions suggesting calm omniscience while down below their legs are doing the fox trot in six different directions."

Embarrassing behavior, no? And infantile to boot.

Nobody's doing this to the Bushies, Andrew. They're doing it to themselves.

6) "Listening to the Democratic debate earlier this week, I was amazed at how few had any strategic plans for taking the war to the enemy, how the very concept of 'enemy' seemed to unnerve and embarrass them."

Unlike Andrew, I'm familiar with an obscure Internet technology known in some circles as the "hyperlink." Here's one to a transcript of the most recent Democratic debate. Judge for yourself.

7) "Similarly, the New York Times, a paper that witnessed first-hand the terror, now prefers to use the occasion of the anniversary for a classic piece of moral equivalence, comparing the murder of 3,000 innocents to the U.S. complicity in a coup in Chile thirty years ago."

I don't honestly feel any particular need to defend the editorial judgments of the NYT, but I will make this one point: In no small part because of your writings, Andrew (this in particular), I've come to believe that the United States has a moral duty to extend full citizenship to all its people. When that day comes -- and I'm as certain as you are that it will -- will it be somehow unpatriotic to remember a time when America still had something to learn about listening to the better angels of her nature?

8) "For these people, the first instinct is always, always, always, that the United States is morally suspect. They haven't changed. The moral clarity after 9/11 terrified them. They wanted it to go away so badly so they could switch the conversation back to the faults and evils of America."

Well, the brush here is so broad I can't be certain who's being painted pinko. Democrats, "by and large"? The New York Times? Some left-wing individual or group you've never heard of that Andrew likes to trot out any time he's challenged? All the above?

I dunno.

But I do know this: Democrats, like Republicans, "by and large" get up and go to work in the morning, do their best to treat other people decently, cherish their families, and love America with a deep and abiding passion. Any suggestion to the contrary is a slur, and the people who peddle that garbage are no better than any of the other haters who insist on making their voices heard in our national conversation.

Posted by Jack O'Toole on September 12, 2003 05:42 AM

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No, My Brush is Broadest
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Excerpt: "ODIOUS DRECK"....Jack O'Toole is really, really tired of people like Andrew Sullivan well, Andrew Sullivan trying to pretend that Democrats "by and large" don't even believe in Middle East terrorism and simply want to give up and surrender...
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Tracked: September 12, 2003 01:17 PM
Comments

Well, Jack, which party do you think will get the votes of the America-Worsters? The loony profs preaching it was all America's fault?
Saying you'd like better diplomacy is nice, but Sullivan was saying nobody had any ideas about better diplomacy.
Except, I suppose, for the usual "whatever-you-did-we-need-to-do-the-opposite-because-that-will-surely-work" stuff.
Remember that "multilateral" means only including Germany and France which, for vile purposes of their own, aren't going our way any time soon.
How is your better diplomacy going to square that circle?
That some people are afraid of us because of our power means what, exactly? What is required of us as regards those people? Some abdication of purpose?
Are we to Israelize our foreign policy, accepting regular murders of our citizens so as to keep from being mean? To satisfy the editorialists in the NYT or the BBC, or Le Monde?
As Sullivan says, you have no good ideas you will specify.
The silver-bullet argument. Whatever somebody didn't do, once close questioning finds some irrelevancy left undone, is immediately assigned sovereign power to cure all.
To paraphrase Sullivan, find us a positive idea that can't be shown to be full of moonshine in less than fourteen seconds.

Posted by: Richard Aubrey on September 12, 2003 01:03 PM

Hey, Richard,

I've got a positive idea: let's ship your ass off to Iraq to defend America. Surely you're ready to die for Bush's little war, since you believe in it so strongly. right?

Posted by: DocG on September 12, 2003 01:15 PM

Answer: Richard Aubrey, from his basement, in his combat fatigues.

Posted by: John Isbell on September 12, 2003 01:17 PM

When I read Andrew's post this morning, if I hadn't been on a deadline, I'd have written a screed and sent it to him.

This is so much better. And so on target. I'm a Democrat, a liberal, AND a patriot, goddammit. I'm sick of hearing from conservatives, ESPECIALLY from conservatives that I generally admire like Andrew, that because I disagree with the course Bush has chosen to combat terrorism that I'm a self-hating, anti-American, passive supporter of terrorism.

Thank you, Jack. You made my day.

Posted by: Jeff on September 12, 2003 01:21 PM

to paraphrase Sullivan, find us a positive idea that can't be shown to be full of moonshine in less than fourteen seconds.

well shit, that knocks out the neo-con grand scheme. so, what's plan B?

Posted by: ChrisL on September 12, 2003 01:26 PM

John Isbell just made me laugh harder than I have all week.

And outstanding work, Jack.

Posted by: tbogg on September 12, 2003 01:35 PM

Richard,

1. The loony left presumably votes Democrat, the loony right (the black helicopter crowd) presumably votes Republican. So what? That tells us nothing about Democrats or Republicans in general. I propose that we try to be more fair in the way we frame the other side's position.

2. I find your account of 'multilateralism' unhelpful. If you want to see multilateralism at work, consider the work of the first president Bush in securing troops and money, before they were needed, in the first Gulf War. Multilateralism does not mean abdication.

3. I feel you are confusing complaints about Bush's actions with the offering of alternatives, and acting as if the former were meant to be the latter. I am not personally in a good position to offer well-developed alternatives in most cases (most of us aren't), but that doesn't mean I can't offer a cogent complaint -- such as that the post-war planning in Iraq was clearly incompetant.

4. I do agree that the democratic candidates need to present well-developed alternatives for how the war on terrorism should be prosecuted, and I agree that they have not done so adequately to this point. Robert Wright provided a hint at what these might look like in his NY Times editorial on September 11th.

Basically, the Bush administration has acted as if it were fighting a conventional war in which it is actually better to have the rest of the world be pissed off at you than happy with you. A couple of comments that you make suggest that you may agree. Wright explains why such a course is likely to prove disasterous, and how the diplomatic struggles may be far more important than the armed conflict.

Posted by: Brandonimac on September 12, 2003 02:15 PM

Brilliant post, Jack. Thank you. And Brandonimac, excellent riposte to Richard.

I can only echo that I'm tired to being labeled as unpatriotic by Bush's attack dogs. That kind of rhetoric is reprehensible on its own, and the more so because it's designed to short-circuit debate.

Richard, you're welcome to find fault with the Democratic candidates' specific or lack thereof. But tell me, do you endorse or reject Sullivan's claim that they "by and large" seek to simply surrender the war on terror? And if you endorse it, can you provide any citation at all to back up that claim?

Frankly, Richard, I don't particularly care to offer up some 14-point poropsal of "what else to do." I'm content to say, "don't do that."

Or perhaps more aptly, "when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."

Posted by: Gregory on September 12, 2003 02:25 PM

Considering that the Bush administration has painted us into a corner and made prosecuting the war on terror incredibly more difficult, it's not entirely surprising that some Democrats have been cautious about providing alternatives. A year ago, it would have been easy. Now, due to the Bush administration incompetence, the task is much, much harder.

Posted by: PaulB on September 12, 2003 02:25 PM

Actually, I'm tired to death of the conservative side of "What to Learn from 9/11" argument.

But, I'd like to pick up Sully's paranoia of Times argument for a second. If I'm reading this correctly, the DATE of Sept. 11 is always, and should always, be remembered forever as the DAY IRONY DIED? Is that right? When everything for everyone else changed forever.

Or is it more because of the 3,000 innocents who died?

Because if it is, then talk to a Chilean about who they knew who died because of Washington's machinations in Chile. Ask those in Santiago Stadium and ask them if they see the difference between Al Queda's pre-enlightenment religious terror and Pinochet's anti-intellectual, fascist terror.

Does this make Richard Nixon and Kissenger the moral equivelent of Osama and his henchmen? For this and Cambodia, and East Timor - where a couple million plus innocent people died because - the answer is yes.

Posted by: Jay on September 12, 2003 02:32 PM

Man. If I'm Andrew Sullivan, I'm wearing an asbestos suit today. Outstanding post.

Posted by: cazart on September 12, 2003 02:34 PM

Brandonimac says that the Democratic candidates need to present alternatives for how the war on terrorism should be prosecuted. True, but that applies even more to the Administration, considering their failures to date:

They haven't found ANY weapons of mass destruction. They haven't found Saddam, and they haven't found bin Laden. The Taliban are regrouping in Afghanistan. They still can't provide water or electricity or basic security to the people of Iraq. The dominos of democracy are not falling across the Middle East. Every public opinion poll shows that the Arab world has turned against us. The Iraqis did not welcome us in the streets, and we cannot finance Iraqi reconstruction out of their petroleum revenues, so we will have to cough up $87 billion. Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups are moving to Iraq to "bring it on" for the American troops. More American troops have died since Bush proclaimed "Mission Accomplished" than died during the invasion itself. Iran is accelerating its nuclear program, and the Administration continues to let the Saudis and Pakistanis double-deal with us. Our soldiers in the field can't get a warm shower or a warm meal, even as we pass out billions in non-competed contracts to Halliburton to provide those services.

This Administration has made a botch of the whole thing. And since they're in charge for at least the next 16 months, it seems like the onus should be on them to tell us what they're going to do to deal with the mess that they have created.

Posted by: John on September 12, 2003 02:43 PM

The richard aubreys of the world confuse action with progress, so of course they think that anyone who says "exactly what is the relationship of attacking iraq to rooting out interantional terrorism" is full of moonshine. They forget the Hippocratic Oath: first, do no harm.

Meanwhile, you want strategy: a.) keep our eye on the ball. That means dealing with actual terrorists and their networks of support, not distracting ourselves with recycling the thinking behind the "rogue state missile defense" into a supposed strategy against terrorism; b.) roll back the Bush tax cuts, which deprive us of necessary resources, and then use the first $94B to follow the hart-rudman recommendations for assisting first responders and hardening potential target sites; c.) bear in mind that many of the successes that we have had to date against al qaeda have resulted from international cooperation and stop gratuitously insulting other countries and start rebuilding alliances that we have tarnished; d.) stop talking about "moral clarity" as though it means anything whatsoever; e.) pay attention to afghanistan; f.) stop enabling the saudis; g.) stop confusing real international issues - the threat of nuclear proliferation, for instance - with terrorist issues; and other stuff along those lines.

I mean, i realize that this isn't as zesty as richard aubrey pounding his fist upon his chest and declaring that anyone who doesn't think like president backbone is full of moonshine, but it does have the advantage of being a suite of policies that might actually make a difference, unlike basically everything the backbone administration has done since the Axis of Evil speech.

Posted by: howard on September 12, 2003 03:19 PM

No, Richard Aubrey, YOU remember. Remember a few months back when we were told, or rather YOU told us, about how the invasion would serve to reveal the huge contribution of France and Germany to Saddam's WMD programs? To my mind, the cornerstone of any democratic plan in the War on Terror and for reconstructing Iraq will be to distance this nation from such claptrap at once. I mean, on January 20, 2004, right after the inauguration, the new president will phone (if he doesn't invite to attend) each head of state and say, "Forget about them; they're idiots." Then we can re-assemble the community of nations (not some artificial coalition) to fight the global war, and turn over the nation-building to folks who not only have some experience, but who give a shit as well. It's really alright for Andy and the force fetishists to shoot their mouths off; we just turn down the sound and say rude things. But for President Halfcocked to have alienated virtually every democratic nation--allies, who up to 9/11 and in its immediate aftermath looked to us for leadership in the world--to pursue a venture that all along looked like not only a brazen attempt to project our own power but a risky gambit to boot, has been well-nigh a disaster. Sure, diplomacy is messy, but it's hard to imagine it producing a bigger mess than we appear to have on our hands now.

Posted by: Bloggerhead on September 12, 2003 08:13 PM

Ok, all I can say is, I served in the US Army for 3 years, including a year in Bosnia. I literally put my life on the line for this country, and all who live in it. I also think Bush is destroying this country, in just about every measurable way. To hear these chickenhawks call me (or anyone who opposes current policy) unamerican is a ridiculous insult to the 3 generations of my family that have served in wartime.ME?? UNPATRIOTIC?? DISSENT UNAMERICAN?? FUCK YOU!

Posted by: Spork on September 12, 2003 09:34 PM

Here is an idea that isn't full of moonshine. Get rid of the current administration which has seriously damaged our national security by the grotesque STRATEGIC error of attacking Iraq. And if possible do it before they make another blunder of epic proportions. Can you imagine what satisfaction Osama bin Laden must take from the fact that we have managed to anatagonize the entire world, our own allies included; squandered incredible lives and resources; and now are forced to spend 87 billion per year (more actually, the Bushies already admit it) to "rebuild" a country that wasn't a threat to anyone but itself. And they weren't even the terrorists, although the place sure as shit is a breeding ground for them now. The REAL terrorists are still at large causing trouble. Afghanistan is completely fucked up. The French and Germans tried to dissuade us from this because they are our long standing allies and could see the pointlessness of the exercise. Events have proved them correct. The fact that Paul Wolfowitz has changed his tune on the reasons for the war proves the point.

Richard Aubrey and his ilk undoubtedly have no idea how many key items of the federal budget have to be combined to make up 87 billion. Well, how about this. According to budget documents from Bush's White House (http://w3.access.gpo.gov/usbudget/fy2002/pdf/guide.pdf) the entire 2003 FY expenditures on Science, Space, Technology, and Veterans Benefits combined is less than 87 billion. Our projected entire outlay for National defense was supposed to be 320 billion (before this insanity). 87 billion is more than one third of what we spend on Medicare. It is more than the entire yearly government outlays on transportation.

And what have we bought for all of this?

It's hard to come up with a good solution to the current problems because it is stupefying that this administration is so utterly incompetent as to get us into this mess in the first place.

It's time to let adults run the show.

Posted by: stuart on September 13, 2003 12:50 AM

Bloggerhead --
It pains me to have to say it, but the next inauguration isn't until Jan. 20, 2005.

Posted by: SqueakyRat on September 13, 2003 03:11 PM