Saturday, September 01, 2007

War Mongering Kirchick

While Andrew Sullivan has been off getting married (and congrats, by the way), Jamie Kirchick has been besmirching people based on little evidence and otherwise lowering the quality of Sullivan's blog as a guest-blogger. I know that I am not the only one who has been driven to distraction by it. For that matter, Sullivan's other guest bloggers have worked hard to combat Kirchick's malign influence. But his latest post (not quite latest any more, but nearly) seemed to cry out for comment, and none of Sullivan's sane pinch-hitters have stepped forward yet, so here goes.

Skipping the first paragraph as intro (you can go read it here), Kirchick writes:
Today, it seems that a "neo-con" (at least in the fevered imaginations of the net-left)...
Not a good start: anyone who talks about "the fevered imaginations of the net-left" is probably deluding themselves on a great many things. This is because, for the most part, the so-called "net-left" is quite moderate, save in tone; and because what really bothers them above all is the war in Iraq which practically the entire universe now understands was a disaster, but which we have been warning about since before it occurred. We're also pretty concerned about Bush's violations of the constitution, of the rule of law, and so forth. I guess you might even say we're fevered. But we sure as hell ain't as imaginative as the neocons, who somehow imagine that things are going well. someone who frequently calls attention to the unprovoked aggression of despotic regimes (e.g. Iran and Syria), the violation of human rights in other countries, and advocates the moral superiority of democratic countries in international affairs.
I don't think that just because you draw attention to unprovoked aggression of despotic countries or the violation of human rights elsewhere you're a neocon. (People who worry about Darfur are not, for the most part, neocons, for example.) What makes you a neocon is a focus on the violation of human rights in countries with which the neocons in the U.S. are itching to go to war. Iran and Syria are, indeed, despotic countries in which human rights are violated; so, for that matter, is Saudi Arabia and Russia and all sorts of places. Focusing on Iran and Syria makes sense only as part of a pre-planned campaign to try to make them into an enemy suitable for aggressive warfare.

It's also worth noting the absence of any concern about the violation of human rights in our country. I grant you we probably don't torture as many people as do the aforementioned despotic regimes (although I haven't studied it and can't say for sure, but I'm guessing so). But we are torturing people (as Kirchick's host has often been at pains to point out); we are picking people off the street (or buying them from bounty-hunters and imprisoning them without trial or due process indefinitely. Surely the fact that these offenses are lesser is mitigated by the fact that these are crimes in which we are complicit: this is our government doing these things. We have a decent chance of stopping them -- without traveling a long distance to kill foreigners at great expense, to borrow Jim Henley's apt phrase. Perhaps without that angle, Kirchick doesn't find the process of caring about human rights as much fun.

And then there's that phrase about "the unprovoked aggression of despotic regimes". As in the case of human rights violation, it seems there is a powerful and important moral case to be made for focusing on the "unprovoked aggression" of our country, since we bear moral culpability for it and are better placed to affect it. I presume that Kirchick, like other Very Serious People, has a blind spot that causes him to equate "unprovoked aggression" with only "despotic regimes". But the fact is that in the past decade neither Iran nor Syria invaded another country without provocation or threat, threw over its government, and occupied the country during a time in which hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of people were killed, and many millions more made refugees. The U.S. did that. (With, I'm guessing, Kirchick's support.) And there is reason to believe that the same gang of war criminals (unprovoked aggression being, after all, a war crime -- the supreme war crime, we said at Nuremberg) are planning on doing the same thing all over again with Iran.

In that context, an excessive focus on the problems of Iran is war mongering -- unless you say very specifically what you are calling for (and arguably even then). But as Matt Yglesias has been good about pointing out, the current crop of war mongers (my term, not his) on Iran have been saying a lot of things about how "something must be done" without spelling out what should be done -- perhaps because the notion of a second act of unprovoked aggression in a decade seems a bit much. But by being vague, they are supporting the forthcoming roll-out of a pro-war campaign.

War-mongering, in other words.
A "neo-con" is now anyone who dares make an issue out of the aggressions and inhumanity of despotisms without explaining them away, and for advocating America do something about these aggressions and inhumanities.
No one's explaining away the aggressions and inhumanity of despotisms. We might be, at times, seeking to explain them, but that's because, y'know, understanding is a good thing -- at least in the fevered imaginations of the net-left.

But "making an issue" is nice and vague, as is "advocating America do something about": because in most of these cases there's precious little we can do. A lot of neocons seem to think that one thing we can still do is to travel a long distance to kill foreigners at great expense. The fact of the matter is that that would be a disaster, which would kill far more people than the despotic regimes can currently do any more than, perhaps, dream of.

To speak vaguely about "do[ing] something about" a country that other people are advocating attacking (in an act of unprovoked aggression) is at best unintentional war-mongering. Most likely it is simply war-mongering that dare not speak its name.

I'm going to skip Kirchick's comments about Bayard Rustin, a man for whom I have great admiration on many fronts, but the details of whose complex ideological transformations I don't want to get into here and now; and proceed directly on to:
And so, simply for stating uncomfortable realities about the world, someone is called a "neocon" (which in today's political discourse--not just left-wing discourse--is akin to labeling someone a "pinko" in the 1950's) and readily dismissed.
...Except that unlike "pinko" (which was, of course, always a conscious slur) neocon was originally a self-chosen term; it has become a term of abuse, to the degree that it has, because its policies have been so overwhelmingly and self-evidently disastrous that even died-in-the-wool-neocons have to disavow the label, not unlike WorldCom and Philip Morris changing their names to try to avoid the trashing that their own actions have done to their brand.

Further, "pinko" was a slur in the 1950's because it erroneously associated liberals with communists, making a false claim that there were a significant number of communists in the U.S. in the 1950's; whereas neocons are in fact still highly influential both in the administration that is actually running the country and in writing for influential magazines (and, it seems, blogs).

The comparison, in short, is absurd.

...Similar remarks apply to Kirchick's flagrantly dishonest parallel between calling people "traitors" and "warmongers". No one is actually committing treason; people are, in fact, calling for further war.

As for his line about "the dictates of Chairman Kos", that is a ludicrous line that has long since been cited as a parody of precisely these sorts of diatribes.

Finally, let's deal with Kirchick's final sentence, that "not everyone who advocates for an internationalist, engaged, muscular foreign policy is a "neo-conservative."" This is probably true -- there is a liberal contingent of war-mongers, often allied with TNR, a magazine Kirchick writes for. So yes: they're not necessarily neocons. They're just useful idiots for the neocons, at best supporting neocon warmongering for stupid if idealistic reasons, and at worst being indistinguishable for them.

War-mongering? Yes. Unless Kirchick wants to say what "muscular" and "do something about" means, I will assume that he is in fact part -- perhaps an unwitting part -- of the current effort to whip up a (disastrous, and on our side aggressive and immoral) war against Iran.

Kirchick, judging by his blogging at Sullivan's place for the past week or so (the only writing of his I am familiar with), is a warmonger: he is, indeed, a particularly slimy type of war-monger -- he is a disingenuous one, who does not admit what he is doing. Like racists who flinch at the word, Kirchick finds a description of his actual views offensive: he likes a nice, soft euphemism -- "muscular", say.

Kirchick is busy scaring us about Iran at a time when very powerful people are hoping that the U.S. will attack Iran (in an act of unprovoked aggression). If he's not intentionally war-mongering, he's just plain being dumb.

But I will admit that it gives me pause to see people so blatantly and openly embrace the position that, to most sane people, was so utterly discredited by the disasters of the past five or so years (at least among those not wise enough to see beforehand that these ideas were disastrous). They'll say it all over again, and we'll fall for it -- all over again.

Gulf of Tonkin! Iraq's WMDs! And....

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