What I Fear

I fear two things, mainly. One is that we will lose our nerve politically, and that this war, which we should win handily, will instead become the protracted existential struggle that some of us now say it is when we are feeling pessimistic. The leaders of the Democratic Party, in tacit collaboration with much of the media, seem to be oblivious to this possibility, or indeed even to favor it if it would bring about George Bush’s political downfall. They are helping our enemies to demoralize us into giving up. For all that people like John Kerry talk about Vietnam, it is they who have most conspicuously failed to understand what happened there, and it is they who now allow themselves to be manipulated by our Islamist enemies (that is the kindest interpretation of some Democrats’ behavior). These Democrats, by encouraging defeatism among Americans, risk reenacting past U.S. blunders. The Islamists, unlike the Democratic leadership, have learned the lessons of Vietnam, and are trying to replicate North Vietnam’s success in turning American public opinion. Our enemies would have a much harder go of it if more of our public figures showed some backbone and a better sense of history. Yet as things stand it is we who are having a harder go of it than is necessary.

My other fear is that one of our cities will be hit by a nuclear attack. I don’t think it’s likely, but it’s possible and it only has to happen once. I think we’re most likely to be attacked in this way if we lose our nerve, if we look like we’re on the run, or even if we waver in our commitment to stay involved in Iraq for as long as is necessary. Look at what happened to Spain. Part of my fear comes from my sense (I don’t claim that this is an original idea) that such a catastrophe would have, in addition to its unimaginable human cost, a strong chance of changing the U.S. into a different and worse type of country than the one we know.

I don’t listen to NPR or know who Ben Walker is. Compared to many Americans, I lead, as Andy aptly put it, a “detached, insulated, safe existence.” Yet I have great respect, as I think most of us do, for our people who are on the sharp end of this war. They are the best of our society. I also have generally high regard for Bush’s war leadership. He may have done a lot of things wrong in his domestic policies, he’s too often politically calculating at the expense of principle, and he shares much of his father’s ineptness at making a case to the public. But he understands the big picture, in a context where a lot of public officials and intellectuals don’t, and that’s the most important thing. God only knows how bad things would have been if Bush, instead of understanding immediately that 9/11 meant war, had acted conventionally and appointed study commissions and sent the FBI to Riyadh to interview suspects.

We can no longer withdraw across the ocean, pull up the bridge and hope to be safe. If we did try to withdraw, the radical Islamists would eventually attack us at home, and eventually they would get nuclear bombs, and they would use them. We have to stop them overseas while we can. Mass-destruction terrorism was predictable before 9/11. I predicted it, Lex predicted it, lots of people predicted it. Lex and I used to discuss it as a probability. We didn’t know how it would happen, but it seemed like it was bound to happen eventually, and it did. I spoke with Lex on 9/11 and neither of us was surprised by the attack.

The point of mentioning all this isn’t to say that we’re clever, it’s to point out that the possibility of a 9/11-type attack was always obvious. Anybody who wanted to could have seen something like it coming, but most people weren’t paying attention. You can’t blame them. Most of us focus on our own lives and few of us enjoy thinking about horrific hypotheticals. And these points apply equally to the risk of nuclear attack by terrorists or rogue states: it hasn’t happened but it can easily happen, and it will probably happen eventually if we don’t do our best to prevent it.

That is why what the media and Democratic Party leadership are doing is so dangerous. By sowing doubt about the war effort (mainly, it appears, for narrow domestic political purposes), they make it more likely that we will give up and retreat, as we did from Vietnam, and eventually be attacked again at home. Or that we will slow our efforts, become a little bit less creative, more cautious, more multilateral, less preemptive against the likes of Syria and Iran, and that a fight that we can win in a few years by showing resolve and consistency will instead drag on. And the longer it drags, the greater becomes the likelihood that the other side will gain the resources and get lucky and blow up one of our cities, or do something equally terrible. If that happened, not only would the human cost be enormous, but we might lose many of our freedoms. And of course at some point we would probably retaliate in a much less discriminating way than we do now. (It is, after all, only our sensibilities that currently keep us from giving the entire Arab world the Hama treatment, which would end the war in a few days.)

None of us wants to get to that point, but the Democrats and media are playing with fire in their blind partisan recklessness. It’s too bad that we can’t just send the lot of them to a reeducation camp where they would be forced to spend a few months doing nothing but reading Churchill’s speeches. But of course we can’t do that, so we shall have to hope that we can defeat our enemies before any real deterioration in national pro-war sentiment sets in.

21 thoughts on “What I Fear”

  1. But who is to decide what is valid and necessary criticism from what is counter-productive ? Second, media opinion and political maneuvering in an election year are discounted by many. By how much is hard to tell.

    I think a lot of the sentiment deterioriation around the war is self-inflicted on the part of the Administration. This White House simply sucks at communications and just can’t help itself from setting high expectations and making sudden promises, only to be contradicted by events within weeks or months. Take the stupid June 30 deadline. Why not just tell the fanatics, “this is your deadline to raise hell and make our plan look unreal”.

    Like it or not, the conspicuous lack of WMDs has severely limited the credibility of the White House on this question. Its continued denial, including the President’s – who doesn’t see a difference between actual weapons stockpiles and “WMD-related” programs – has nothing to do with leadership and has everything to do with the narrow political purposes you’re talking about.

    Overall, the doubts are only taking hold and the mud is sticking on the wall because the Administration is doing such a brilliant job making it so.

    The ones who most urgently need to read Churchill speeaches are those in charge right now. If they had even 1/10 of the vision and leadership of the great man, nobody could touch them.

    But they’re not even remotely close.

  2. But who is to decide what is valid and necessary criticism from what is counter-productive ?

    The Democratic leadership and media people who are trying to knock down the Administratin politically should restrain themselves.

    I realize that Bush & Co. are also playing politics, but they have also generally been right on the big picture (i.e., this is a major war and we have to win). And they have led with bold and innovative plans of action (reform the ME) at every point. They are in the hot seat and I defer to them because they have generally handled things well. The leading critics have been wrong about the nature of the war (“why do they hate us?”), then wrong about what we should do (rely on the UN?), and now wrong about how to handle things (too much talk, not enough fight). It’s obvious that they will oppose anything that Bush does, regardless of its merits. Their behavior goes far beyond honest criticism.

    As for being wrong about WMD, so what? Either everyone was wrong about it or we haven’t found it yet. I don’t see how a Clinton or Gore administration would have handled the issue better. I also don’t see how being mistaken about WMD in hindsight implies anything about the wisdom of the decision to attack Iraq, for which there were other valid reasons besides WMD.

  3. “They are helping our enemies to demoralize us into giving up.”

    ugh. I am so tired if reading this kind of anti-free-speech McCarthyism on so many blogs.

    So if one disagrees with this war or our “reasons” for starting it, he better not speak his mind because he’s aiding and abetting the enemy?

    Sorry, this is a democracy — your line of reasoning falls in line with Mr. Hussein’s Iraq, not the USA.

  4. I disagree. This is a free country. I am sick and tired of the ‘unpatriotic’ line of argument according to which freedom of expression is limited to praising the leadership or essentially shutting up. And once again, who decides how far that restraint goes, and what is appropriate ? You ? Me ? Kerry ? Bush ? Why ? Where does it stop ? If Israel can not only survive but thrive with a loud pacifist movement, so can we, dammit. The authoritarian temptation is as understandable as it’s unacceptable. To me at least.

    I agree with their big picture; that’s not in question. The execution is what matters. The devil in the details, and when it comes to those, and communicating them, the Administration must do a lot better.

    And not all criticism from the Left is anywhere near as daft and stereotypical as you make it out to be. It is certainly convenient to portray all criticism this way but that doesn’t make it true or accurate. As for opposing anything Bush does regardless of merits, it’s called politics. It would be the same thing were the Republicans in the opposition. And Democrats would, of course, be demanding “restraint”.

    As for WMDs, you ask so what ? That’s how the Administration justified it, that’s what. When you choose a casus belli, and it turns out to be bogus, you don’t ask “so what ?” afterwards. The President claimed that 1) there were weapons and 2) we knew where they were. So far, nothing has turned up. Which clearly proves we didn’t know where they were. And given that this is not the first massive intelligence failure we’ve had lately – and don’t give me the line about Denmark or France believing there were WMDs too; we spend $100 for every dollar the French spend on intel; we should know better – and if I can’t trust our intelligence, how the heck should I trust the decisions made on its basis ? (See Baer’s op-ed in today’s WSJ)

    Due to the emphasis the President put on WMDs, and their conspicuous absence, it is unlikely Congress, or the American people, or our closest allies will trust him again on a decision of this magnitude for quite a while. And that makes it unlikely he will be effective at reforming the Middle East or anything else. Influence comes with credibility. He had plenty after Afghanistan. He’s managed to lose all of that and then some in Iraq.

    As for the other reasons besides WMDs to invade Iraq, they certainly existed. But that’s not why we invaded the country, and they are not strategic goals per our national security strategy. I never thought Iraq ought to be first on the priority list. I always argued that Iran, for instance, made a much more attractive target : its regime, its public support and advocacy of terrorism, its nuclear activities…I’m afraid we took on Iraq because it seemed the easiest target, militarily speaking and politically speaking. No Churchillian leadership there. And what looked like a good tactical move could well turn into a costly strategic mistake.

  5. There is legitimate criticism, which Sylvain specializes in. And there is mere panic-mongering or political posturing which is unjustified by the facts and which does encourage our enemies. The way to deal with it is for the audience to be alert to what is going on, and for people like us on this blog and thousands like us to point out the difference. I think it is fair to criticize those who oppose the President or his decisions, and it is not McCarthyism to do it. Sometimes W is right. There should be open debate.

    But something like this is more what Jonathan is talking about:

    Tue Apr 27 2004 17:29:54 ET

    Ted Koppel and ABC News’ “Nightline” will pay tribute to the more than 500 American service men and women killed in action in Iraq by devoting the entire broadcast to reading the service members’ names and showing their photographs. Entitled “The Fallen,” the special “Nightline” broadcast will air FRIDAY APRIL 30 (11:35 p.m., ET), on the ABC Television Network. ABC News will also simulcast this tribute live on its Jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square. ABC News Radio will air excerpts of the program.

    This is not news coverage. It is an attempt to have a political impact for partisan purposes, typical of the major media. And it does encourage our enemies, and that should be part of the calculus people make when they engage in this sort of posturing.

  6. Robere wrote:
    ugh. I am so tired if reading this kind of anti-free-speech McCarthyism on so many blogs.

    Name-calling comments that mischaracterize the arguments to which they respond do not add to the discussion.

    So if one disagrees with this war or our “reasons” for starting it, he better not speak his mind because he’s aiding and abetting the enemy?

    Stop attacking that helpless straw man. I said that politicians and journalists who put their partisan political interest above the national interest are increasing the danger we face.

    Sorry, this is a democracy — your line of reasoning falls in line with Mr. Hussein’s Iraq, not the USA.

    My line of criticizing Bush’s political opponents falls in line with totalitarian mass-murder and oppression? Please explain. BTW, what about your criticism of my criticisms — haven’t you broken your own rules here? After all, criticism = McCarthyism, right?

  7. Sylvain, the Administration justified the war by citing several other concerns besides WMD. And anyway, you will have trouble convincing me that the war was unnecessary — I’ve thought it inevitable since the end of the previous war.

    Also, I don’t see why trusting Bush is an issue. He may have oversold the WMD angle, but if that’s the case he did it to promote a war plan that he thought was justified on a variety of grounds. I don’t think that kind of behavior is a big sin in politics, and I don’t think that he intentionally deceived us. Anyway, I am not looking to be personal friends with him. What matters most to me is that he seems to have made reasonable decisions under the circumstances. I doubt that Kerry or Gore or Clinton or Bush’s father would have made better ones.

  8. Lex wrote:
    There is legitimate criticism, which Sylvain specializes in. And there is mere panic-mongering or political posturing which is unjustified by the facts and which does encourage our enemies. The way to deal with it is for the audience to be alert to what is going on, and for people like us on this blog and thousands like us to point out the difference.

    I think that’s exactly right. Americans have a responsibility to inform themselves about what’s going on, and to use prudent judgment in evaluating the statements of public officials. Too many people want govt officials to turn lead into gold, and too many officials pander to such unrealistic expectations. Then the officials get into trouble when it turns out that they cannot work miracles. The solution is not to blame Bush or whoever, it’s for all of us to learn more about what’s going on in the world, and to have a mature sense of the limits of the possible.

    In this case, we should understand that our intelligence was limited because intelligence in such situations is always limited. The real question is whether Bush made the right decisions given that it was unreasonable to expect better intelligence ever to be available without invading Iraq. Reasonable people can disagree about the best course of action in this situation, but to say that Bush let us down because he was wrong about WMD is to expect too much of Bush and too little of his audience.

  9. He certainly made his case around WMDs. And as Andrew Sullivan argued – in a commment I posed – he has done a piss-poor job dealing with the fallout. Until he does, and in a way consistent with his role and position, his credibility is much diminished. And given the circumstances and the stakes, this is not acceptable.

    As for Iraq, it had to be dealt with at one point or another. I still don’t believe it was a first priority. But it was the easiest target on the list, both militarily and, probably, as weird as it may sound today, politically. As for the WMD intelligence, it looks way too weak to justify its prominence in the case for war made by the President. He has to deal with it or let it needlessly poison the elections, diplomacy and our relations with those allies that are able, willing and useful. Denial and procrastinating will not do.

  10. Lex, I disagree. And I don’t think many of the families would agree with you either. The snippet you quote says it’s a tribute. Why is that bad ? And why would the political impact go only one way ? This kind of exercise mostly strengthens the beliefs of those who already have a settled conviction on the topic. If it makes the rest realize there are things more important than Martha Stewart’s trading, The Apprentice and the candidate’s childish military record barbs, that’s a good thing.

    People are dying over there. So after Andy’s fine rant about the media not giving a shit about the sacrifices being made, now we’re going to bitch and moan because they are acknowledging it and, well, come to think of it, it could have political side-effects ?

    Come on now.

  11. I agree that democrats are going out of the way to hurt the american effort to create a free and democratic Iraq. The news media is on a spree to stop the modernization process in the middle east.
    After all, what would they have to talk about, if the middle east ceased to be a breeding ground for froth-mouthed jihadists high on a death cult?

  12. Sylvain, maybe having lived in the USA for 41 years has made me cynical. In other words, they are lying if they say this is a “tribute”. They, the news media in general and the television networks in particular, are engaged in politics, and this is a political act, meant to do political harm to their political enemy, the Republican president, George Bush. It is that simple. I impute NO positive motives of any kind to anyone in the news media, someone like Ted Koppel in particular or anyone like him, understands himself as a political actor with political influence, and acts accordingly. They are interested in advancing their agenda, and they will do whatever they need to do and tell any lies, or strike any pose, to justify what they are doing. If Gore or Clinton or Kerry were president they would not do something ike this. It is that simple.

  13. I agree with Sylvain that we need (emotionally require, if you prefer) an explanation of why the intelligence was so bad. But i still don’t see any possible explanation that would float. Bush is not a great communicator, though he is adequate enough to leave alone when continued discussion would make things worse.

    On a more sanguine note, does anyone know if there is a second source for this?


    If true, Bush still has a problem. How do you deal with chemical weapons labeled as pesticides sitting in 120mm mortar shells? How do you explain precursors labeled as pesticides sitting in ammo dumps?

    How long would it take to mix them and load them? We don’t keep pesticides for crop dusters in ammo dumps, but maybe these really were for bombing locusts or protecting the troops during maneuvers during certain seasons.

    And this is, unfortunately, where Lex is right. Even if we now have the answer, that the chemical weapons existed and we found them, any fig leaf will be good enough for denial by many media outlets.

    Matya no baka

  14. We don’t keep pesticides for crop dusters in ammo dumps, but maybe these really were for bombing locusts or protecting the troops during maneuvers during certain seasons.

    Or for protecting the regime against human opponents.

  15. Yes, Jonathan, that’s what i think too. But:
    1) Assuming the story is true (which i don’t know) and
    2) Assuming that the substance is for military purposes camoflaged as pesticides (which i believe)
    How could the story be presented to get around the “Bush lies again!” crowd? Because any possibility of denial will be gleefully trumpeted. And collaborating evidence will be glossed over after two continuations to different pages.

    Matya no baka

  16. How could the story be presented to get around the “Bush lies again!” crowd? Because any possibility of denial will be gleefully trumpeted. And collaborating evidence will be glossed over after two continuations to different pages.

    That’s the big question, isn’t it?

  17. It’s bogus because they’re only showing the casualties in Iraq. If they added to those the soldiers lost in Afghanistan, then one could at least make the case it’s in tribute. As it is, it’s bias so blatant that to defend it discredits you in other areas.

    Like the one that trumpets the emphasis on WMD’s as making up the President’s case on Iraq and ignoring the fact that they called it “Operation Iraqi Freedom”.

    The humanitarian case against Saddam was so apparent that I believe the BA didn’t play it up as maybe they should have, taking it as a given that booting the bastard was morally imperative.

  18. I disagree. On two grounds. First, the conspiracy theories only go so far. Second, even if you believe that is what ABC intends, it doesn’t follow that this will have the planned effect. Now, if Michael Moore was doing the reading, you’d have a point.

    I don’t see why including Afghanistan would make it more appropriate. Sounds like moving the goalposts to me. If they included Afghanistan, somebody would ask we include the Brits. And so on.

    Lex, maybe it’s your cynicism, maybe it’s my coming from a country where such things never happen, even when a bunch of paratroopers and legionnaires get bombed to bits in Beirut.

    spongeworthy, I really don’t care what the name of the operation is. Since when does that prove anything ? We spent months telling the world that a) there were weapons and b) we knew where they were. The Secretary of State spent 90 minutes showing evidence to the world. So yes, it matters. WMDs are a huge issue beyond Iraq and it is a matter of huge importance that we know who has them and where they are. If we can’t get Iraq straight, what do we know ? To me, this is the biggest intel upset since the missile gap that wasn’t.

    Do I blame Bush for the failure ? Not necessarily; it depends on the quality of the intel that was used to justify this momentous decision, which should be open to questioning, whoever is in the White House. So far, it does not look very impressive.

    Most importantly, with our intel now proven to be so weak, our credibility, at home and abroad, has been diminished. And it will remain so until we have dealt with the issue instead of dodging the questions we don’t want to hear.

    Admitting you screwed up and dealing with it does not make one look weak and incompetent. Denial, however, does.

  19. It was purely by accident that I stumbled upon your “Chicago Boyz” website. I must say how refreshing it is find a group as erudite as yours
    appears to be. Unfortunately, our Chicago for too long has been diminished by it’s reputation as being “The City Of Broad Shoulders ” but lacking any indication thatwe ever had groups such as yours willing to discuss and debate relevant issues of the day!
    I think it is impossible to arrive at a meaningful consensus concerning our present administration and it’s stewardship of this nation, either politically or in an economic sense. I believe this most sincerely. Remember, I said “meaningful consensus” and certainly not the
    result of a popularity contest where expediency usually wins out.

    In time of war, if we can call our involvement in Iraq, a wartime activity, all Americans should have acted , as one, in supporting our President and leaders especially since the 9/11 tragedy was and is still so fresh in our minds. In this sense, I think most of us did just that as shown by President Bush’s high ratings at the time. This
    meant that the rank and file, the haves and have-nots, and many who voted against him in 2000 were now rallying behind him and supporting his decision to go to war. I wish I could say that I have the highest regard for the decisions that President Bush and his Cabinet have been making
    these past 3-1/2 years. I, too, wish that I could
    shout the glories of this president and people like Don Rumsfeld, Dick Chaney,Candeleeza Rice,
    Paul Wolfewitz, etc.. but I can’t! Unfortunately, I cannot wash-away the tragi-comedy of events these past 3-1/2 years both Republican, and to a lesser extent, those of our Democratic representatives.
    George W. Bush literally got into office by the skin of his teeth. His record as president will be analyzed and debated by generations to come.
    Only then will the world really know whether Mr. Bush made a significant contribution or not.
    For now, we can only hope that Mr. Bush’s deep religious convictions will guide him in acts of
    good behavior as the stakes are very high. The 2004 Election will once again reflect the wishes
    of the majority of the voters. Once again, we shall all have to live with the results, and not forget to be thankful that we live in a democracy.

Comments are closed.