Sunday, February 26, 2006

Getting Their Story Straight

Like the proverbial ant farm that has been dropped and dashed to bits on the ground, cursing its inhabitants with sweet, sweet freedom, the minions at the Corner of J-Pod Cul de Sac and Doughy Pantload Boulevard begin walking back their senior conservatives' newfound heresy on the Iraq War. Enter Serious Thinker Ramesh Ponnuru:

William F. Buckley Jr. has been skeptical about the Iraq venture for some time. Two years ago he said that if he had known before the war that Saddam Hussein had no WMD, he would have opposed the war. The mosque bombing appears to have been the final straw for him.

At least Buckley, gin-soaked poltroon that he is, has a final straw. But note Ponnuru's dismissive tone here: "Oh yeah, Bill says he would have opposed the war if he had known beforehand that Saddam had no WMD." Well, no shit, Sherlock. Everyone would have opposed it at that circumstance. That was the fucking selling point, no matter what ex post facto reasoning of convenience the Kool-Aid Brigade would like to pull out of their asses.

But implicit in this is that Buckley was some sort of conservative outlier, some sort of heterodox maverick, in a circus tent where each clown is so damned sure that he's the one driving the overstuffed Volkswagen. Not gonna fly, Ramesh. Buckley is number one Superfly O.G. conservative gangsta, ya heard? This whole "Bill doesn't speak for the rest of us shit" is dead right out of the gate. Just because Buckley has chosen to mix copious amounts of Bombay Sapphire into his Kool-Aid doesn't mean y'all haven't been drinking out of the same trough for the past three years. Now it's "Bill who?".

This is a refinement and extension of Bill's position in response to new circumstances. It's not a case in which a full-throated supporter of the war turned on it and came out for an immediate withdrawal. He wasn't a full-throated supporter of the war, and he hasn't (yet?) come out for immediate withdrawal.

Again, the passive-aggressive modality, steering Buckley into the corral with the rest of the naysayers. Ponnuru can't come out and call Buckley a traitor, as if he were Howard Dean or something, because that would mean a new career start for Ponnuru, one that would likely involve the exchange of fruit and trinkets for small-denomination bills at the freeway off-ramp.

Perhaps Ponnuru and his fellow armchair warriors might take a tip from Buckley -- who despite his manifold faults, is not an idiot -- and understand that nuance has its place, particularly in hugely important issues such as this.

I myself think that Bill's conclusion is premature.

I myself have little patience for twee faux-thinkers who lard their prose with reflexive pronouns. And I myself wonder just what the hell it would take for Ponnuru and his fellow Serious Thinkers to get the damned message, that even if their casus belli had been legit, this whole adventure has been handled so ineptly, so inexcusably poor in its postwar phase that sensible people can only marvel that its architects are still employed.

Yet Ponnuru lightly chastens Buckley for his "premature" conclusion. Jesus H. Christ, what exactly does it take to make the scales fall from your eyes at this point, Chief? Are we just being obstinate for the sake of being obstinate, simply to avoid acknowledging that someone else might have been right all along about this entirely avoidable fiasco?

Perhaps the mighty Cockpuncher of Fresno State has the answer. At this point, Hanson's impassioned missives are the columnar equivalent of sausage -- lots of filler and floor sweepings. You can't help but assume that if his wife cooked him a Belgian waffle for breakfast, he'd find a way to harrumph a four-point pronunciamento on the parallels of waffles to the latter stages of the Peloponnesian War.

The insurgency in Iraq has no military capability either to drive the United States military from Iraq or to stop the American training of Iraqi police and security forces — or, for that matter, to derail the formation of a new government.

Actually, they've done exactly that. Hanson's premise is undone from the very first sentence, in the second clause, if not yet the first. Even if we left with our tail between our legs, and the rest of the world were pointing at said tail, we'd never admit it, so that first clause is rendered inoperable anyway. (But if you don't think we're just another bombing or two away from a "peace with honor" marketing campaign, you haven't been paying attention.)

But if Hanson can explain why the training of Iraqi defense forces has gone so dismally without some attribution to the capabilities of the insurgency, I'd like to hear his thesis. That would be a pretty neat trick, seeing as how that's exactly how it's come down. Baathists, sectarians, and Kurdish separatists have steadily infiltrated the ranks of IDF conscripts, either thwarting the training outright, or forming units to serve their own needs over that of the country.

So you have Shia death squads murdering Sunnis, Kurdish peshmerga ensuring that they will have some measure of autonomy sooner rather than later (thus inciting similar Kurdish separatist movements in Turkey and Iran), and anti-American Saddamists monkey-wrenching the whole operation just because they can. How else would Thucydides Gump here explain the drop of stand-alone battalions from one to zero?

First, through the use of improvised explosive devices (IED), assassinations, and suicide bombings, they hope to make the Iraqi hinterlands and suburbs appear so unstable and violent that the weary American public says “enough of these people” and calls home its troops before the country is stabilized. In such a quest, the terrorists have an invaluable ally in the global media, whose “if it bleeds, it leads” brand of journalism always favors the severed head in the street over the completion of yet another Iraqi school. [emphases mine]

Y'know, I have been as passionate a critic of the network media's mores and standards as the next guy. I find their content and coverage generally callow and gutless, dancing endlessly around the facts of the story in order to maintain the veneer of "objectivity". But Gump overtly implies here that the media have simply caused the appearance of violence and instability, by their selective focus. In other words, it's not nearly as bad as they make it sound.

Tell it to Bob Woodruff, asshole. He took the shrapnel while you were humping Good Dick Hunting's leg for a dinner date. Perhaps he miracled said shrapnel into his face just to make Chimpco look bad. They are a nefarious, tricksy lot, the media. Anything for a story. Just because you get to hang in the Green Zone for some syrupy "truth tour" doesn't make you Moses handing received wisdom down from Mount Sinai.

Can-do Americans courageously go about their duty in Iraq — mostly unafraid that a culture of 2,000 years, the reality of geography, the sheer forces of language and religion, the propaganda of the state-run Arab media, and the cynicism of the liberal West are all stacked against them.

2000 years? Perhaps Pericles merely means the current culture, but obviously there are cities here that are 8000 years old, eons before Gump's go-to war between Athens and Sparta. Whatever. This is not a matter of a feckless citizenry so besotted with leftist cynicism that they sold their own troops down the Tigris, this is a case of a shamefully hubristic cabal of secretive bastards who got the war they wanted and still fucked it up immeasurably. There is no walking back of those facts, no matter how Hanson would like to have them.

And yet he persists, as today's cherry-pick demonstrates.

Screaming Iraqis and mangled body parts still dominate Americans' nightly two minutes of news from Iraq. And, indeed, Iraq is still a scary place within the Sunni Triangle.

Sure. Just within the Sunni Triangle it's "scary". Basra, al Anbar, not so much. Right. There is relative stability in the south because the Shia are cleaning house with death squads. There is relative stability in the north because the Kurds are getting their ducks in a row by securing their oil interests. And once we leave, who's to say that the masses in the south won't want a taste of the north's petrodollars?

But again, this is all the media's fault for feeding these baseless impressions we have of this applecart we knocked over.

Opposition politicians in the United States charge that our troops don't have enough body protection or heavily armored Humvees — suggesting that our fighters have been almost criminally ignored.

Any troops that have to ride in ghetto-armored vehicles, or whose families have to buy body armor for them to wear in combat, have been criminally ignored. I don't give two shits if it's Hillary Clinton or John McCain who has the temerity to point that out, and neither should Hanson. But he is determined to beat these tiresome tropes right into the ground -- the media, the opposition, the cynics; the media, the opposition, the cynics.

Well, bullshit. Who you gonna believe -- Hanson, or your own lyin' eyes?

But Iraq, like all wars, is not static. What was supposedly true on the ground in Iraq in 2003 is not necessarily so in 2006 — in the way that the situation in Europe in 1943 hardly resembled that of May 1945.

Yet while things have changed radically in Iraq, the pessimistic tone of our reporting remains calcified. Little is written about the new Iraqi government, the emergence of the Iraqi security forces or the radically changing role of the American military.

Actually, there's been an enormous amount of coverage of the Iraqi government, its elections, its people braving violence to show up and vote. The coverage has been there, even when it hasn't been fully warranted; much of it had the redolent whiff of the in-house propaganda puff pieces that the Bushies have become infamous for.

And as much as the December elections got reverential coverage, Hanson's right about one thing -- very little coverage was devoted to the fact that it took over a month to figure out who won. Very little coverage has been devoted to the fact that all of these elections in the past year have been conducted under stringent martial law conditions, and observed from Amman, Jordan. Hmmm, I wonder why that could be? Institutionalized pessimism, I suppose.

Almost every media stereotype about the American military vanishes when visiting frontline bases. The world still sees dated Abu Ghraib photos, not Iraqi civilians receiving topflight care in the emergency room in the American-run hospital in Baghdad.

Christ. Hanson, like the rest of them, still doesn't get it -- the real crime of Abu Ghraib was not simply what was portrayed in the photos (selectively, one imagines Hanson intoning soberly), but that despite the coverups, it's becoming more and more clear that this was policy. This was not a few bad apples venting their homoerotic steam on hapless detainees. The similarities between interrogation techniques used at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Bagram are simply too close to be merely coincidental. And all Secdef Magoo can do is give smartass ripostes to serious questions about the needless defamation of American reputation.

That the Abu Ghraib photos are now a couple years old (and thus "old news" presumably) is merely a testament to just how difficult it is for justice to penetrate the wall of silence that always surrounds official atrocities. How long did it take for something (which turned out to be far too little) to be done about My Lai? Did the inexcusable span of time somehow diminish the vile nature of the crime? Does it ever, for any crime? Of course not. So one is not the other. It's nice that we're no longer torturing people at Abu Ghraib (supposedly). That does not mean that the Iraqis aren't doing it themselves, nor does it mean that what we already know should go unanswered.

It was nearly an impossible task to remove Saddam Hussein, foster democracy in the heart of the ancient caliphate and restore on a relatively short timetable what took the Husseins three decades to destroy. Meanwhile, all this must be done surrounded by Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia; in the midst of a larger war against Islamic fundamentalism; and while under global scrutiny from a largely hostile audience.

Yet what amazes is not so much the audacity of even thinking the United States could attempt such a thing, but rather that it may just pull it off after all — if only we remain patient.

I think every serious player in both political parties will soon have to address a very serious question -- if you knew then what you know now, would you have done the same thing in the same fashion, and why or why not? It is time the nation had a truly serious conversation about the subject, hopefully short on the usual furbelows of Freedom™ and Democracy®, and how we're changing the region. Because so far only a liar or a fool could say that the region has changed for the better. The Cedar Revolution seems to have petered out; Egypt had a dog-and-pony show of an election that could only have been a bigger joke if it had used Diebold machines; the Palestinians voted in a terrorist organization.

Really, the big winner in all of this has been Iran, and Hanson knows it as well as anyone. He can get his rocks off shooting AK-47's at Balad all he wants, but he knows the truth. We've painted ourselves into a major corner here, and the calls for "patience" fall on deaf ears. It's been three long years since we were told that the mission was accomplished. The country is going broke, and the bloodbath continues unabated. Plaintive whimpers for "patience" must now be tempered with real vision and planning, something that no one in this diseased administration seems able or willing to conjure up.


Anonymous said...

Excellent. I love your rage.

freq flag said...

The world still sees dated Abu Ghraib photos

Yeah, I love this ploy--the implied "statute of limitations" because a sufficient number of news cycles have elapsed without the occurrence of a Monica moment.

I'm guessing that it was put into the kool-aid as the natural successor to the "nothing more than a fraternity prank" defense.

RonB said...

Out of the park! If I hadn't been up for thirty-six hours when I wrote my jaundiced little response to that hack Hanson, it still wouldn't have been half as good as yours.

Heywood J. said...

Thanks, guys. For some reason, the SF Comical (which I subscribe to mainly because I live in the sticks and have no interest in reading about year-round preparations for county fairs and almond festivals) continues to run Hanson's syndicated column. THe guy is working my last fucking nerve, I tell ya.

Ron, I really like your take on things, and your perspective, having actually been in the midst of it, is invaluable. Definitely an excellent addition to the blogroll.