"Gooble, gooble, one of us!"
For anyone who's under the mistaken impression that the right has had a sudden change of heart about America and war, please read this piece by Matt Taibbi.
Look, people are entitled to have changes of heart. They are also entitled to learn from experience. And most importantly, people are entitled to be wrong. We all are, from time to time. And if people like Ross Douthat emerge from the experience of observing the Iraq and Afghanistan fiascoes finally understanding “the bluntness of war as an instrument of state” and the “difficulty of predicting” any war’s “long-term consequences,” that’s great. I applaud it.
But I don’t buy it. What happened back in ’02 and ’03 isn’t can’t be summarized as simply as a simple policy disagreement that Douthat, through the folly of inexperience, happened to be on the wrong side of. The mere fact that the Douthats of the world supported the war wasn't what made them so obnoxious.
Much more important was the shameless witch-hunting of antiwar voices, and the impugning of the patriotism of people who advocated the very sort of caution Douthat now claims to endorse. Douthat, remember, contributed to the National Review’s obnoxiously-titled “Kumbaya Watch,” pitched as “the latest in anti-American commentary from the left.” In that column he hounded critics of the president and/or those who didn't advocate immediate war against the Muslims, and wondered aloud about the political bias of organizations like ABC News (they wouldn’t let their reporters wear American flag lapel pins!).
The recent conversions to the cause of foreign-policy prudence by people like Douthat would be obnoxious even if they were believable. It’s easy to respect the position of someone like Ron Paul – he’s been against the war from the start, and for the same reasons throughout.
But people like Douthat didn’t start becoming pacifists until a) the occupation of Iraq went south, helping derail the Bush presidency, and b) Barack Obama became president and started taking ownership of new adventures in places like Libya. Before then, he was just another jingoistic twit doing the “Gooble, gooble, one of us!”chant on the march to war.
He's right. And you can go one war before that one to see the alleged "pacifism" of the wingnuts in none other than the person of the very thoughtful Tom DeLay who nearly donned bell bottoms and started singing "Give Peace A Chance" on the House floor during the Kosovo debates:
"I cannot support a failed foreign policy. History teaches us that it is often easier to make war than peace. This administration is just learning that lesson right now. The President began this mission with very vague objectives and lots of unanswered questions. A month later, these questions are still unanswered. There are no clarified rules of engagement. There is no timetable. There is no legitimate definition of victory. There is no contingency plan for mission creep. There is no clear funding program. There is no agenda to bolster our overextended military. There is no explanation defining what vital national interests are at stake. There was no strategic plan for war when the President started this thing, and there still is no plan today."
He cared, he really cared.
Of course, we musn't kid ourselves that this only goes one way. Plenty of Democrats switch positions on these wars depending on who's making the case as well. But the Republican Party and conservatism in general is organized around militarism and national chauvinism to a far greater extent than modern liberalism so I'd be less inclined to trust a "conservative pacifist" to follow through than I would a Democrat.
And the Iraq war was something of a test for whether people have good sense in these matters so what they said then really does speak to their crediblity. As Taibbi tartly observes:
And let's be honest. Even a child could have seen, back then, that the whole WMD thing was, transparently, total bullshit and a canard – that they were going in to Iraq anyway, for other reasons, no matter what the intelligence said or didn't say. I mean, for God's sake, Bush was trying to convince us that Saddam was going to use unmanned drones to spray poison gas over American cities – drones that would have been launched from Saddam's giant secret fleet of aircraft carriers, apparently. What adult person actually believed this stuff?
Plenty, but that's the problem isn't it?