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Sunday, September 11, 2011

 
Keller's Mea Culpa

by tristero

There is much to dislike in Bill Keller’s long, tedious article explaining why he initially supported the Bush invasion of Iraq. I will focus on three. They are all very small little details, basically asides, but they are all of a piece. They speak to things that are in short supply among the purveyors of the mainstream discourse: character and intelligence.

Before doing so, I want to make the point that many of us - including Digby, including myself, including millions of other ordinary Americans who marched in 2002 and 2003 - never changed our minds about the Bush/Iraq war because we got it right from the start. Long before the first American soldier stomped onto Iraqi soil, we knew it could only be, in Keller’s own words, “a monumental blunder.”

And those of us who were right have as little power now - even less, by some measures - to influence the public discourse than we had back then.

I believe the following tiny excerpts from Keller’s piece are deeply telling. They seem trivial, but it is their very triviality, the fact that they go unnoticed and therefore become tacitly accepted into the discourse, that makes the wrong-headedness of our public discussions so intractable:
I christened an imaginary association of pundits the I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club, made up of liberals for whom 9/11 had stirred a fresh willingness to employ American might…

[Fred] Kaplan dropped out of the hawk club within a month when he concluded that, whether or not an invasion was morally justified, he doubted the Bush administration was up to the task. The rest of us were still a little drugged by testosterone…

All in all, Fred Kaplan, who predicted they would screw it up, looked like Nostradamus…
”The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club”… how terribly clever a quip it is, how humorous, how smug. How easy it is, when you talk this way, to forget that we are talking about the advocacy of war, the process of turning living human beings into hamburger. No doubt, men - and women - have spoken flippantly about war since before Achilles, but rarely has an entire discourse about going to war been permeated with such callous, snotty arrogance as was the attitude of the Bush administration and mainstream media in 2002/03 towards Iraq. Perhaps there are justifiable, unavoidable wars - although I have never heard of a war in my lifetime that was either - but serious discussion about the necessity of war ends - not begins - when you resort to such frippery as ”The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club.” It all sounds like a lark, a disagreement among campers over which team to join, the Eagles or the Hawks rather than a discussion about whether or not it achieves some kind of super-ordinate goal to kill lots of people. And when you put it that way, it sounds morally corrupt to label the advocates of such murderous behavior as mere members of a club.

Keller wants to blame a hormonal imbalance - too much testosterone - on his and his pals’ failure to perceive the “monumental blunder” as quickly as Fred Kaplan, who presumably suffered from some kind of chemically masculine deficit. He’s speaking metaphorically - duh - but it’s a bad metaphor, and it’s wildly wrong. Because it was not testosterone - a substance - that blinded Keller to the insanity of Bush/Iraq but fear, a psychological state. Put another way, Keller’s body didn’t fail him; his character did.

Nostradamus is the quintessential wild-eyed, insane prophet making preposterous, impossible-to-believe in predictions. Needless to say, it didn’t take anything remotely like Nostradamus-level Dark Powers to predict that Bush/Iraq would end in disaster - in fact, it required the precise opposite. It took examining the cold, hard facts with a mind unclouded by fear to figure out that this was a colossal mistake. And, it turns out, millions of people around the world figured this out at the time. But not Bill Keller and his Club.

What these three remarks reveal is that the man who, until recently, edited the New York Times treated the awesome, solemn subject of war as an intellectual lark; a near-frivolous disagreement amongst friends; he permitted his fear to blind him to the reality of the situation and cloud his judgment; and even now, he ascribes superhuman powers of prediction to anyone who could have dared to voice in advance the obvious outcome of the Bush administration's madness. These remarks also reveal that rather than acknowledge his own responsibility to think clearly through his fear, Keller is prepared to blame his stupid - no other word suffices - decision to support the invasion of Iraq on his hormones, ie, something other than his own inability to conquer his terror and think rationally.

I don’t know if Bill Keller is a stupid man. I suspect he is not. But I do know that in 2002/03, fear made him very stupid indeed - as it did so many in the mainstream media and government. I also know that even now, as he issues a long-overdue mea culpa , Bill Keller still cannot face the full consequences of what his fear enabled: the murder and mutilation of thousands upon thousands of people.

I suppose it is churlish not to say something like “better late than never,” that it is good to know that Keller learned something from this and will be reluctant to throw his still-considerable influence behind the next cockamamy violent nonsense a psychotic cadre of government officials demand he supports. Perhaps: better late than never. But I can’t help thinking of the awfulness of what this country did to the citizens of Iraq - we all know that Abu Ghraib was just the tip of the iceberg - and did it with a moral arrogance that was, at the time, breathtaking and sickening to behold.

It is those deaths and tortures that matter to me, not Keller’s belated redemption. It is those people - and their families - that concern me, and while I can certainly find it in me to accept that Keller truly regrets his support for what, at the time, was clearly going to become the worst blunder ever in American foreign policy (and that’s saying a lot), I can't spend much time praising or thanking him for his change of mind. Because whenever I think of the liberal hawks, my mind and my heart go immediately to their hapless victims and it is entirely with them that my sympathy and my thoughts lie.


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