By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
TO BE HONEST, I FEEL slightly mortified to still be arguing that the war — the actual one, of course, not some pipe dream of what it should have been — was a blunder. That argument has already been won. But don’t take my word for it. Just listen to the White House. After being in Iraq almost as long as it took the U.S. to fight World War II, the president just brought his team together at Camp David for two days to strategize what a top official called “the last, best chance to get it right.” If only they’d spent two days thinking about this before they invaded.
We already have copious examples of how to get it wrong. One of the grisliest happened last November in Haditha, where a small group of Marines allegedly gunned down 25 unarmed Iraqi civilians. For me, the scariest thing about the whole episode is that, after decades of Saddam and three years of war, most Iraqis don’t even find the story especially newsworthy. As New York Timesreporter John Burns put it on Charlie Rose, “To Iraqis, it appears to be another incident in an endless stream of such incidents.”
Typically, the right-wing punditry glanced at Haditha — which, seen in the best light, was an international public-relations calamity — and instantly strapped on their ideological blinkers. They minimized the episode (fewer corpses than My Lai!). They blamed the killing on the war apologist’s favorite fruit, the bad apple (which also sprouted in Abu Ghraib). And they criticized those overly fussed by such atrocities: New York Times columnist David Brooks attacked the moral prissiness of anti-war Americans “willing to betray the decent Iraqi majority in order to preserve some parlor purity.”
Now, it’s delightful that Brooks, who has spent recent years embedded at The Timesand PBS, would label anybody else a “parlor” anything — his idea of combat is ducking Chris Matthews’ flying spittle. Still, he at least was acknowledging that you can’t fight terrorists without getting your own hands dirty. (Sadly true: The air strike that got Zarqawi also killed a woman and child.) In contrast, Limbaugh simply accused the war’s opponents of being “gleeful” about the massacre. And Oklahoma’s James Inhofe — incredibly, not even the scariest senator from that state — took time from gloating that his family tree contains no divorces or homosexuals to declare that anti-war types “are rejoicing” over Haditha.
Talk about projection. While many war opponents doubtless felt a grim satisfaction on hearing about the massacre — they’d been expecting such news — I haven’t met a soul who expressed the slightest pleasure in it. Jeez. Can’t Limbaugh and Inhofe at least get their clichés right? Bleeding-heart liberals aren’t gleeful, they’re earnest.
And though earnestness can be a real drag — the left could do with a lot more glee — it does make one take seriously the killings at Haditha or the hooded prisoners at Abu Ghraib. What’s bizarre is that so many of the war’s champions — Christopher Hitchens is a visible exception — still don’t grasp that in a global struggle against despotic jihadism, you can’t merely lecture other countries about democratic values, you have to behave like an open, accountable, lawful society yourself.
The blindness starts at the top. Far from respecting human rights and visibly punishing those who violate them, Bush and Cheney make it clear that they consider such issues marginal. Indeed, the harried troops in Iraq hold themselves to a higher standard than our administration’s big shots who grow offended by criticisms of Guantánamo and publicly fight for the right to torture prisoners; just last week the Los Angeles Times reported that the Pentagon wants to omit from its basic soldier’s manual a key tenet of the Geneva Convention about the humiliation of prisoners. Forget the moral reasons for acting decently. It’s just good public relations.
Speaking of which, during his surprise photo-op visit to Baghdad on Tuesday — the media dutifully dithered endlessly on about all the top-secret planning — the president told Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki that he’d come to Iraq to look him in the eye. Don’t you wonder what Maliki saw when he looked back?