Thursday, May 04, 2006

Breaching the Dike

I thought my post on Shelby Steele's explanation of our Iraq failure (short version: we were too soft on them) was pretty good. But Hilzoy and Glenn Greenwald put me to shame.

What's amazing, as they point out, isn't the piece itself so much as the incredibly positive reaction Steele's argument has elicited in the conservative blogosphere. It's like a dam has finally broken, and the right can finally extract itself from the humanitarian rhetoric they've wrapped this war in ever since the WMD case fell apart. We failed in Iraq because we were too concerned with being humane (you really have to read the excerpts Hilzoy and Greenwald collect to get the full brunt of their argument here). If we had just blown apart a few cities, then we'd have won by now--but liberal political correctness doesn't allow it. Greenwald elaborates:
Looking at the bright side of this deranged rhetoric, it is, in a sense, refreshing to see that many of these war supporters, in their great frustration, are finally relinquishing their solemn concern for the Iraqi people and the tearful inspiration caused by the Purple Fingers. Instead, they are now just calling for some good old-fashioned carpet bombings and mass killings. As Jeff [Goldstein] tells us: "there are times when we really should turn off the 'smart' bombs."...
To sit and listen to people who have spent the last three years piously lecturing us on the need to stand with "the Iraqi people," who justified our invasion of that country on the ground that we want to give them a better system of government because we must make Muslims like us more, now insist that what we need to do is bomb them with greater force and less precision is really rather vile -- but highly instructive. The masks are coming off. No more poetic tributes to democracy or all that sentimental whining about "hearts and minds." It's time to shed our unwarranted white guilt, really stretch our legs and let our hair down, and just keep bombing and bombing until we kill enough of them and win. Shelby Steele deserves some sort of award for triggering that refreshingly honest outburst.

Of course, this "outburst" is nonsense. It's not just that such a tactical effort wouldn't have worked, it's that it couldn't have. "Victory" over a smoldering crater is not a "win" under any moral standard America can rightly hold itself to. Hilzoy furthers:
[T]here is a difference between being hamstrung by guilt and being restrained by principle. The former is a sign of weakness; the latter is a sign of strength. Our principles are our own. We do not follow them because we are afraid of what someone else will say, but because we believe that they are right. The day we come to confuse our adherence to morality with timidity and fear will be the day we lose whatever virtue and strength we have, and forfeit our claim to anyone's respect.

Before we claim to be "winning", we need to take stock of what we've won. If we've crushed the Iraqi people into submission, but done it at the expense of our own soul, I think that's properly cast as defeat--defeat of a particularly tragic sort.

Ultimately, Greenwald gets the last word:
Escalating the use of military force in Iraq by indiscriminately killing civilians and eradicating whole cities would contradict every single statement we have made about why we are there, what we want to achieve, and what our plan is in that region. We're not refraining from those acts because of white guilt or a fear of what European diplomats will say about us. We're refraining from them because the wholesale indiscriminate slaughter of thousands or tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis -- all because we have grown impatient and annoyed with our pet little democracy-building project and just want to bomb the whole place into submission -- would be both morally reprehensible and, from the perspective of our own interests, an indescribably stupid thing to do.

Amen to that. Something ugly has been released in the hearts of the American right with this article. They better snap out of it, because what they're beginning to advocate now runs perilously close to utter depravity. Unlike what Jeff Goldstein says, we do not have to believe that the right actually "luxuriates" in the deaths of innocents to be appalled by their position. It's the indifference to the carnage, not the celebration of it, that is stunning. Wrapped under the guise of "professionalism" and "strength", this basic moral apathy represents a far greater degradation of one's ethical character than even active celebration of the deaths of terrorists. As Mirage said in The Incredibles: "Valuing life is not weakness, and disregarding it is not strength."


griftdrift said...

Could this be the beginning of the Vietnamization of the Iraq War? What I mean by that is a positioning that we could have won but the politicians / press / students / protestors / liberals just wouldn't let us do what needed to be done militarily? Same thing happened in Vietnam. Blatantly ignoring all other variables while claiming that if only the dogs of war had been unleashed...

Eva said...

Not to mention: who the hell are we kidding? There's no way to win a war against an insurgency by bombing a few cities, no matter how many insurgents come from those cities, for the blatantly obvious reason that it would exponentially increase anti-American sentiment - particularly of the violent variety - in Iraq. Steele's proposal is blatantly simplistic and military suicide. I'm not sure what he thinks he can gain by explaining it away as "white guilt." Besides, I would think that the invasion itself tipped us dangerously close to an imperialist policy; I have difficulty believing that the difference between carpet-bombing and not carpet-bombing would be that great by comparison.

The Constructivist said...

Tim Burke's too modest to mention he called this--or something very like it in mid-March, so I'll do it for him.