The Abominables of The New Republic: Getting Away With Murder

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I find it almost
impossible to write another post about our nauseatingly immoral
invasion and occupation of Iraq. I’ve made my views clear, and offered
numerous reasons for my conclusions. See, for example, “No
Way Out – But Out
,” “A
Genuine Mission Impossible
,” and “Get
Out Now: Just Do It
.” And “The
Missing Moral Center: Murdering the Innocent
” concerns the moral
dimension that almost every pundit, and the vast majority of Americans,
adamantly refuse to acknowledge to this day.

I offer the
following comments about the Symposium
of Wise People
offered by The New Republic only as an
exercise in what perhaps should be called the sociology of the banality
of evil. These are the Wise People who make murderous catastrophes
of this kind possible. Even at this late date, they are incapable
of acknowledging and admitting what they have done. For some additional
commentary on this TNR collection of abominables, see Spencer
Ackerman here
and here,
and IOZ.

I want to
make a few observations about Peter Beinart’s piece, since Beinart
is one of the so-called “opinion leaders” endlessly encouraging
the Democrats to adopt a more “muscular” foreign policy. One might
be pardoned for having thought that the Democrats hardly needed
encouragement on this point: from World War I (from which sprang
the
endless train of horrors
that still consumes us today), through
Korea, Vietnam,
and Clinton’s beloved, “humanitarian” bombing campaigns and
their attendant lies
, the Democrats have never been shy about
murdering people who don’t threaten us. Today, we have a number
of prominent Democrats who are more hawkish about Iran than even
Bush can credibly be at the moment (including Hillary
“Bomb ‘Em Yesterday, aka Torture” Clinton
). I still think it
almost certain that Bush will find his warmongering groove in the
next year, and Bombs Over Iran will shortly follow. No national
Democrat will oppose him, not in any way that matters or deters
him. Ah, but Beinart isn’t concerned with the facts or the reality
of the matter, you see. Oh, no: he is concerned, as are all such
Establishment types, with how Democrats are perceived. Too
many people think of the Democrats as “weak,” and that needs fixing.
For a discussion of some of Beinart’s deeper analytic inadequacies
and dishonesties, see this
earlier piece
.

Beinart was,
of course, a major booster of the invasion of Iraq. Let us be precise:
Beinart strongly urged the invasion of a country that had not attacked
us, and that did not threaten us. This is the advocacy of illegitimate,
immoral, and illegal aggressive war. Let us always remember the
exact nature of the crime involved.

But now Beinart’s
heart breaks
:
I
can’t even imagine Iraq anymore. It exceeds my capacity to visualize
horror. In a recent interview with The Washington Post’s
Anthony Shadid, a woman named Fatima put it this way: “One-third
of us are dying, one-third of us are fleeing, and one-third of us
will be widows.” At the Baghdad morgue, they distinguish Shia from
Sunnis because the former are beheaded and the latter are killed
with power drills. Moqtada Al Sadr has actually grown afraid of
his own men. I came of age believing the United States had a
mission to stop such evil. And now, not only isn’t the United States
stopping it – in some important sense, we are its cause.

No, Beinart: not
“in some important sense.” The United States government and
its military are the cause – in every “important
sense.” And the U.S. government was aided and abetted by Beinart and
his fellow warmongers. But the collective “we” is critical to Beinart’s
purposes, since he is determined to avoid accountability at every
turn. That “we” carries profound meaning. As Hannah
Arendt observes
: “[W]here all are guilty, no one is.” The
“we” washes Beinart clean of sin, or so he hopes.

See if you
can follow the ludicrous desperation of Beinart’s argument. He moves
from this statement: “In a particularly cruel twist, the events
of recent months have demolished the best arguments both for staying
and for leaving” – to this one: “Today, the honest arguments
for staying or leaving are simply that we can’t do the opposite.”
This irrefutable chain of logic leads to his recommendation:
At
this late date, the United States has only one card left to play
in Iraq: the threat to leave immediately. Except for Sadr, virtually
no one in Iraq’s political class wants that to happen. We must wield
that threat as dramatically as possible, and, if Iraq’s leaders
don’t respond, leave as fast as we humanly can.
This is surpassingly,
stupendously stupid. I discussed the ridiculousness of this idea just
last week: if we threaten to leave – and if we convince the Iraqis
that we really, really, really mean it – a miracle will
occur. No,
it won’t
– and neither Beinart nor anyone else can
provide even the smallest piece of evidence to make the possibility
of the required miracle believable to any degree at all.

Beinart appears
to have become confused about where and when his hero FDR employed
the various tactics that Beinart so admires. Beinart is still wedded
to his “carrot” that will enable the miracle: “a temporary troop
increase and a dramatically larger, World Bank-overseen
development effort.” If you should think he doesn’t mean this,
Beinart spells out these details should the Iraqis bow to our demands:

If
the Iraqis really strike a constitutional deal that the prominent
leaders in all three major communities publicly support, the United
States must try to make it stick. That would mean temporarily sending
more troops to secure key Baghdad neighborhoods and then flooding
those neighborhoods with public-works programs that put young Sunni
and Shia men to work.
Now, I could be
wrong about this, and I’m sure someone will tell me if I am. But I
don’t think FDR used TVA-like projects in Germany and Japan while
World War II was still raging across the world. No, I’m certain
he didn’t. If
Beinart’s views weren’t so repugnant and literally insane, I might
give him a point or two for creativity. A New Deal for Iraq! Well,
I suppose “creative” is one word for it.

Beinart and
all hawks of similar inclination refuse to give up the idea that
“we meant well,” just as he refuses to surrender the myth that American
willpower can still make this work, even at this late date.
As I’ve discussed in detail, one of Beinart’s fundamental problems
is not that “[he] can’t even imagine Iraq anymore.” His problem
is that the reality of Iraq never was clear to him. Iraq,
its own history, peoples, cultures and aspirations never
assumed solid shape before his eyes
, so Beinart, just like those
driving the Bush administration’s foreign policy, deluded himself
that we could shape Iraq in our own image. The presumptuousness,
arrogance and colonialist condescension of this view cannot be allowed
into Beinart’s consciousness.

Given his
still unshakable basic beliefs, to say that Beinart’s concluding
paragraph is inadequate and unsatisfactory hardly captures the nature
of the errors involved:
“Were
not those right who held that it was self-contradictory to try to
further the permanent ideals of peace by recourse to war?” wrote
John Dewey in The New Republic in 1919, confessing his despondency
at the outcome of World War I. Yes, they were right then, and they
are right now. War can be necessary, but, in the decade between
the liberation of Kuwait and the liberation of Kabul, it became
the repository for too many of our hopes for a better world. Now
that we have seen the liberation and destruction of Baghdad, it
won’t be again for a long, long time.
Beinart still
insists that his advocacy of non-defensive war was a “repository”
for “our hopes for a better world.” He still refuses to admit that
he “hoped” to bring about “a better world” by “travel[ing] long
distances in order to kill foreigners,” in Jim
Henley’s entirely accurate phrase
. [I should add that Beinart's
mention of Dewey's "despondency at the outcome of World War I" carries
especially heavy irony – since The New Republic was a
particularly influential force in dragging the United States into
World War I, especially through the writings of Herbert Croly. I discussed
that history in the
second half of this essay
.]

People with
views like Beinart’s will never acknowledge the
true nature of their mistake
. Given even less than half a chance,
they will do it all again. So take this warning: whenever any of
these unreconstructed hawks again announce their abiding love of
war, and be assured they will, condemn them, ridicule them and,
most of all, ignore them. They will lie, as they always do,
and tell you, for example, that a nuclear Iran is “unacceptable”
and “intolerable” – even though any threat an Iran with nuclear
weapons might represent still lies years in the future, and
even then, it would be capable of being contained and deterred.

Beinart and
his fellow warlovers are filled with regret now, only because the
devastation and horror are so immense they cannot be denied. But
most Americans have an attention span measured in months and, in
the very best case, perhaps a year. Moreover, the horrors of Iraq
still have no reality for most Americans, least of all with regard
to how those horrors affect Iraqis. To the extent they are
aware of them at all, that awareness will fade quickly enough.

And then the
stage will be set for the next war, and Beinart and his crowd will
propagandize for it once more. For pity’s sake, don’t let them get
away with it again. Remember, and I mean this literally: they will
be getting away with murder.

Just as they
did this time, and as they do every time.

November
29, 2006

Arthur
Silber’s [send him mail]
blog is Once Upon
a Time
, where he writes about political and cultural issues.
He has also written a number of essays based on the work of psychologist
and author Alice Miller, concerning the implications of her work
with regard to world events today. Descriptions of those articles
will be found at a companion blog, The
Sacred Moment
. Silber worked as an actor in the New York theater
many years ago. Upon relocating to Los Angeles in the late 1970s,
he worked in the film industry for several years. After pursuing
what ultimately proved to be an unsatisfying business career, he
decided to turn to writing full-time, a profession which he happily
pursues today.

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