Monday, March 06, 2006

Even In War, Appearances Matter More Than Reality

Here's this week's edition, from Sunday's paper. In the Tribune "Lack of Perspective" section, I appear on the same page with Linda Turley-Hansen, whose offering this week was summarized by the editor on page F1 as "This is not the time for a female president, especially Hillary Clinton." Ah. I'm not linking to something that dreadful; if you want to read it, find it yourself.

My choice for headline was "How to Win the War -- Special Bush Edition!" but the editor's choice was OK, I guess.

East Valley Tribune, Mar. 5, 2006

We’re now seeing the GOP strategy for winning the Iraq war, just in time for this fall’s elections. It’s a three-point tactical plan: One: It’s the media’s fault. Two: It’s the Democrats’ fault, even though they don’t control anything. Three: We’re winning the war -- where it matters, in the media!

It was never about finding WMD or building a stable, secular Middle Eastern democracy. Who told you that? If you stop paying attention to what’s happening in Iraq, we’ve already won!

The “it’s the media’s fault” talking point interests me most. You have right-wing pundits claiming that it’s all hype, that there’s no civil war, that many Iraqis go about their business and aren’t in militias, bombing shrines, or being killed. It’s terrorism, not civil war, says Ralph Peters of The New York Post -- and don’t you forget it!

If only Mr. Peters had reported from Lebanon during their 15-year civil war. Lebanon suffered 100,000 casualties and 100,000 more wounded between 1975 and 1990 -- so some 2.4 million people weren’t killed or injured! About one-fifth of the pre-war population became refugees, which means that almost 80 percent were able to live almost, or somewhat, normal lives -- or at least avoid becoming statistics. How often did you hear about that? David Ignatius of the Washington Post calls Lebanon as the model for Iraq. That’s now the plan for “victory”: Fifteen years of civil war, then fifteen years of Syrian domination.

Perhaps these Bush apologists could have helped with American history, too. The Washington Times last month published an anachronistically outrageous celebration of Mary Chesnut, whose diary of her Civil War experiences became C. Vann Woodward’s Mary Chesnut’s Civil War (1981). (Hat tip: Brad DeLong, who calls the piece "The Washington Times Celebrates Black History Month.") Chesnut was the wife of a former U.S. Senator, prominent in Confederate social circles, who may have been a really nice person who treated her slaves well by the customs of the time.

The Washington Times piece contrasts Chesnut favorably with Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin because, after all, one shouldn’t demonize slavery and the “tragedy of a cause utterly lost” by obsessing about only the bad aspects. There were lots of happy slaves. Look how many schools got built and painted. The media unfairly sensationalized the evils of slavery’s and ignored all the good (or at least less evil) parts.

We needed these guys during the 1960’s as well. If only a William Kristol had said that we’ve been trying, but “we have not had a serious effort to fight the War on Poverty.” We needed columnists to explain that disagreeing with President Lyndon B. Johnson is out-of-bounds, because we have a patriotic obligation to stop arguing about a policy, no matter how wrong-headed, once the president announces it. Because -- and we’re not conceding that anything here yet, there’s still a chance for glorious success and I still may win the lottery, run a 3:15 marathon, or get elected president -- if the policy does fail, then it’s the critics’ fault.

The War on Poverty -- which only now we learn we could have fought entirely with borrowed money -- would have worked great if only conservatives hadn’t complained and presented a divided front and been motivated by hatred of a Democratic president. Democrats may have controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress, but that’s no excuse for Republicans causing the War on Poverty to fail.

Sound like nonsense? You bet. What kind of U.S. war planning assumes that there won’t be any criticism at home, ever? That any dissent of any type here is enough to tip the balance? I thought that the generals have all told Bush that they have enough troops to accomplish the mission -- but criticism of Bush means that the insurgency could win? That’s not much of a margin for error, is it?

How many times do these guys get to be seriously wrong before they become responsible for their mistakes? Or is it all the fault of the media, or the Democrats? That’s so much more pleasant, isn’t it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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