What I often find most astonishing about the scorched earth tactics the regressive right uses to sell its policies is how utterly lame they are. Utterly, and embarrassingly lame.
If you just stop to think for a moment about most of them, they are transparently foolish on their surface, and often laughably so. I realize that that's a big if for a lot of folks, but still. . . C'mon, people!
The administration has invested the most energy of all in its efforts to justify its war in Iraq, a war gone so terribly wrong, even by their standards and intentions. That was true before the war when it was relatively easy, with a compliant press and a frightened so-called opposition party, to gear up a giant merchandising machine to get the public — also frightened at the time, though for very different reasons — to believe that Saddam was Satan incarnate, and that Iraq had to be invaded pronto. And it's been true ever since, when much the same approach has been used to browbeat opponents to the war, which group is increasingly just about synonymous with the entire American electorate.
It helped a lot that Saddam truly was a beast — if not The Beast — and that 9/11 was still relatively close in the rearview mirror. Just the same, and even without mentioning the dirty little secret that we had helped create Saddam originally — and had ignored, when we weren't abetting, his worst crimes prior to 1990 — it still took some serious propaganda of the kind Goebbels could have admired to move public opinion sufficiently to launch the war. Hey, wasn't it Osama that did 9/11? Aren't we supposed to be fighting al Qaeda? True, those Arabs are all alike (even the ones in Iran, who aren't even Arabs), but this still seems a little fishy.
But just in case you had ever doubted the perceptiveness and prescience of George Orwell before, you knew the man was a genius when a poll demonstrated that by the summer of 2003 69 percent of Americans had come to believe that Saddam had a direct part in planning the attack on New York and Washington. Ironically, it would now appear that George W. Bush had more to do with that little crime — at least by allowing, if not perpetrating it — than did Saddam, but that's a story for another day and another essay.
Poor, stupid Karl Rove (heck, nowadays even he probably agrees with that assessment). If you could get that many dummies to plunk down for such a transparently absurd little Mid-Eastern war, he probably should have been selling them two-acre plots of green cheese on the Moon, instead. You know, take the money and run. Get while the gettin' is good. All that. He probably could have set up shop on a beach in the Marshall Islands without fear of extradition (they already do everything we tell them to, anyhow), sipping daiquiris and watching his money grow. Maybe he didn't cause he knows the truth about that other little scam they've been peddling in America, and realized that global warming will soon put that country forever in the drink.
But, seriously, you gotta figure that even the Bush junta were themselves probably amazed at the success of the ludicrous invasion whopper they'd managed to foist upon a breathtakingly foolish public, nearly the only one in the world who went for this walking non-sequitur of a war. Then again, once you've put a guy like George Bush in the White House, claiming as one of his great achievements that he licked forty-year alcohol addiction, you probably figure it is impossible to underestimate the stupidity of the American public. Then, yet further, again, you've probably also been part of the long-term conspiracy of dumbing down American politics, which makes it even less likely that you'd be surprised.
There was so much that was inane about the claims that were made at the time. Fifteen of the so-called hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, and none from Iraq, but nary a word was said about that. Iraq had never attacked the United States. Iraq had never threatened the United States. Iraq was such a big bad looming power that at the time it controlled a whopping one-third of its own airspace. Iraq was so powerful that half a million of its people had just died from disease and starvation because of the American-led sanctions. Iraq was imminently preparing to use its weapons of mass destruction that the UN inspectors couldn't find. Donald Rumsfeld knew exactly where the WMD was, but somehow couldn't get the message to the inspectors (or maybe they just couldn't get batteries for their GPS units). Bush, out of his deep concern for international law, was going to war to enforce the will of the UN Security Council, which had refused to pass a resolution sanctioning war. Even after the US had nearly snapped off the arm of every member-state, bending them behind their backs to torture them into voting aye.
Iraq was such a ticking time-bomb that we had to get the inspectors out and bomb before they used their WMD they didn't have. Iraq followed the UN resolution and reported that it had destroyed all its WMD, which proved that they obviously hadn't. Iraq was somehow singularly immune from the laws of deterrence, which had miraculously kept the Soviet Union, with its 20,000-plus nuclear warheads from attacking the United States because of the sure annihilation which would come in response. But that would never work against the "madman" Saddam. Who was worse than Hitler. Etc. , etc. Yadda, yadda and lots more yadda.
Isn't it amazing? I mean, this is only a partial roll-call of the stuff that was either clearly known or easily logically deducible at the time. Forget about what we later learned (er, some of us, anyhow) from the Downing Street Memos, from the Circus Powellimus tour de force at the UN, from the Libby trial, and more. It is astonishing that so much flat-out dishonesty could be crammed into just one single fiasco, with the American public signing on the dotted line.
The list goes on and on, but the one that slays me most to this day is the small bit of logic concerning opposition to the war that somehow fell through the memory hole.
Those who had the audacity to oppose the war in 2003 were excoriated in the worst terms, whether they were bleeding-heart liberals, perfidious Frenchmen, or even the odd Republican. We were unpatriotic. We were disloyal. We were America-haters. We were weak. We were effete. We were appeasers. We were Defeatocrats. We were moral relativists. We gave aid and comfort to America's enemies. We were called cowards by super-patriots who had always found ways to not quite make it to Vietnam when it was their turn. We were even called treasonous by those who would later expose a CIA undercover agent, just to discredit her husband for uncovering some of Bush's lies in selling the war. I'm surprised they didn't also call us poorly-groomed, but maybe Hannity or Drudge or one of those idiots actually did, and I just (mercifully) missed it.
In fact, we still are called all those things today. But next time somebody lays one of these golden-oldie absurdities on you, just ask them one question in response. Ask them to name one liberal, one Democrat, or — for that matter — one French president, German chancellor or weaselly UN official who opposed the American invasion of Afghanistan. Just one.
Now watch the smoke rise up from under their collar and out their ears as their regressive circuits fry. 'Cause here's the problem for them, and here's the simple tonic to all their efforts and winning through intimidation and character assassination what they can't win with facts and logic:The Afghanistan invasion was a scant single year before Iraq. If the American-hating, weak-kneed, defeatist appeasers who undermined the troops by opposing the Iraq war were in fact all those things, how is that they weren't so just a year earlier?
Did something strange happen to them during 2002? Did they start the year with big, brassy, red-white-and-blue balls clanging about in their pants, only to somehow finish it pathetically searching hither and yon for their gone-missing now-shriveled raisins? Did the iron-rich, good-old fashioned American blood that coursed through their veins in January somehow dilute itself down to a thin, ironic, post-modernist French relativist anemia by December?
Yes, yes, it's all quite possible. Quite possible, quite possible. But usually it is the simplest solutions to puzzles which turn out most often to be correct. So let's just try this one on for size:Maybe the reason that the same people who applauded the Afghan war then opposed the Iraq war is because they saw the first one as justified and the second one as not. Maybe the reason that virtually the entire world community supported the invasion of one Muslim country and even volunteered to participate (and, yes, that includes the French and Germans), but has reviled the other invasion is because the first country was sheltering the folks who did 9/11, and the second had not a damn thing to do with that attack, nor any other against the United States.
I know it's hard for my conservative friends to imagine, but not every war an American president chooses to fight is a good one. To understand this complicated concept, perhaps it will prove helpful for them to cast their memories way back into American history, and remember how the opposition party treated Bill Clinton over Bosnia and Kosovo. Uh-oh. I'm seeing smoke rising again. Well, so be it. The truth is that some people are capable of thinking for themselves (no!), and when they do, a whole lot of them look at the casus belli for Iraq and see nothing but rank garbage, with a heavy seasoning of tragedy.
Afghanistan proves it. It proves that neither left-leaning Americans (like Brent Scowcroft, for example, or George H. W. Bush) nor just about everybody else throughout the entire world opposed the invasion of Iraq because they hate America, or because they are weak on national security. They opposed it because the goddam thing was based entirely on lies. They opposed it because destroying a country without the justification of national defense or in response to a prior attack is a crime against humanity, plain and simple. Or, like Messrs. Scowcroft and Bush the Elder, who are rather less troubled by such petty moral nuisances than you or I, they opposed it because they knew it had disaster written all over it.
Afghanistan proves that when the foaming right attacks anybody living in the now ever-expanding "reality-based community" as wimpy or appeasing, they are in fact only attesting to the poverty of their case. And deep down, they know it too. They know they could never win on facts (and that was true even if Iraq had gone swimmingly), and so they rely instead on lies and character assassination. You see, you're not wrong about Iraq because the president didn't lie our way into it, or because Cheney wasn't full of crap when he said we'd be greeted as liberators, or because Rumsfeld wasn't stretching a wee bit when he said we knew exactly where the WMD were. Oh, no. You're wrong about Iraq because you hate America and you're a sissy. (You're also probably gay, and French to boot, but we needn't mention that. We'll just hint at it. )
Yep, if only you could be strong and manly and Republican and a red-blooded 'Murican through and though, you'd support a tough American foreign policy. With other people's kids, of course. I mean, you wouldn't actually have to do any fighting yourself. You just talk the talk, rack up the draft deferments, win the elections, and let the sons and daughters of lily-livered Defeatocrats do the actual killing and dying part.
Not only does Afghanistan prove that the right is desperately lying (what, again? ) when they accuse opponents of the Iraq war of not being serious about national security, it also proves something else. Afghanistan proves that, in fact, the reverse is true — that they're the ones who are not serious about national security.
Anybody here still remember a fella named Osama? Remember how that really macho other fella, the one sporting the looks-like-he-bought-it-off-the-shelf-of-a-Wal-Mart Texas swagger, said he and his bad posse was gonna bring the first fella in, "dead or alive"? Well, guess what? It's now been over five year since that particular date that they can never stop reminding us about, but somehow they decline to remind us also of the fact that Mr. bin Laden and his colleagues remain free to this day, happily ensconced in their mountain lair, plotting the next attack just like the one on. . . well, you know the date. (And if you don't, just see every other word of every single speech (still!) delivered by George Bush. Maybe we should get it over with and start calling it Bush Day. )
The honest truth is that the Iraq invasion was not only not in the interest of national security, it was actually cataclysmically and quite demonstrably detrimental to our national security. Think about it. Suppose you wanted to invent a foreign policy that would maximize the damage to your country. I suppose I have to concede that provoking Russia into a nuclear exchange probably would win the prize here for best performance by a country attempting to commit national suicide. But short of that, how about a nice little third-world war that locks up all your land forces, costs a couple of trillion, kills about a million people, makes another four million or so into refugees, alienates the entire rest of the planet, divides your country at home, recruits droves of new suicide-bombing enemies, massively strengthens the hand of a hostile bad actor in the neighborhood, and risks a regional multinational religious cataclysm along with a global economic depression? Oh, and also all this having nothing — absolutely zero — to do with attacking the enemies who are actually at war with you.
Seriously, if you sat down with pen and paper to design a more catastrophic bit of self-destructive stupidity, could you possibly top George Bush's little Iraqi stinker, apart from the nuclear exchange scenario? I doubt it. This war has not only failed to enhance American security, it has radically diminished it. And by indulging in this pet project which many thoughtful analysts have now come to rightly describe as the worst foreign policy blunder in American history, instead of actually pursuing the folks who did 9/11, the Bush administration and its cheerleaders from the Armageddon Army of the Fright-Right have demonstrated that they are the ones who actually are not serious about American security.
I once stopped for breakfast at a roadside New Hampshire diner in the middle of nowhere. Evidently, it was run by some devout Christians who were anxious to provide us patrons with a side-order of proselytizing to go along with our waffles (at no additional charge, too!). There was literature everywhere, and the menu was prominently adorned with the phrase, "Easter Proves It".
Now, I generally figure that those who need to shout to you how convinced they are of something are typically the ones who are actually most in need, deep down, of the reassurance they're offering others. But even apart from that, it wasn't exactly clear to me what was meant to be proving what here. Surely they didn't mean that the existence of bunnies and colored eggs proved that their god was the right and true god. Did they? I suppose it had something to do with the resurrection story and all that, which, interestingly, appears to be more challenged than ever these days, as far as I can see. Seems like everybody's coming out of the woodwork nowadays to say that Jesus came down off the cross and finished out life raising a family and — who knows? — sitting around the telly on weekends rooting for the home team with twelve of his closest buddies.
But there more's than a whiff of this same maniacal urge to self-reassurance-through-marketing in the Bush Believers camp these days (who anyhow overlap to a considerable degree the Easter Proves It crowd, and who may well have learned on Sundays their handy techniques for stabilizing a shaky psyche). I mean, what kind of powerful delusory tactics are required for the 29 percent in this country who are still giving this guy a positive job approval rating? After blowing our defense before 9/11, losing two wars, watching a city drown, turning a massive federal surplus into a massive deficit, leaving wounded vets to rot with cockroaches in Army hospitals, hiring and firing US attorneys to do political prosecutions, and the treasonous exposure of an undercover CIA agent and her network to punish a political enemy for telling the truth about their lies — after all that, what kind of serious hallucinogens are needed to give your approval to this president? And where can a fella get ahold of some of those?
It's truly scary, but at least this mindset might provide us a small handle — the slightest beachhead in the minds of the massively deluded — when they trot out all the usual shibboleths about our feckless failures at patriotism, just because we don't happen to agree that it was such a hot idea to plunge all of America's land forces into the festering open wound of an unwinnable war that nothing to do with our country's security. Or that failing to seriously fight a war that had everything to do with American security, and thus leaving dangerous enemies free to strike us again, was not a good idea. Call me crazy, if you must, but I don't think those are particularly good presidential decisions. And it looks to me like you pretty much have to be an ordained deacon in the Church of Bush to even continue going through the motions of arguing they were.
Arguing with dogma is like trying to negotiate with a tsunami. The likelihood that even your most powerfully persuasive applications of empirical fact and logical reasoning will succeed in getting either to change course is, shall we say, less than outstanding.
But next time you find yourself in one of those inane conversations with a True Believer from the regressive right (and, if you're like me, you really just don't bother much anymore), just tell 'em:"Afghanistan proves it".