Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Defending the Indefensible

I sent an email to Josh Micah Marshall at Talking Points Memo today. He's never responded to or acknowledged any comment I've sent him and I certainly don't expect him to start now. But I think the sentiment I express here I really want to express to a whole great slate of people, both celebrity journalists and also people I know. Here's the post that set me off.

Defending the Indefensible

As the war in Iraq slides into severe unpopularity, the silence of liberal academics and journalists who supported the war is deafening. To my knowledge, not one single such columnist has admitted to making a grave error in moral and intellectual judgment.

Indeed, many columnists, yourself included, are mounting weird, incoherent (to borrow a word you and others were fond of using for people like myself who opposed the war on practical and moral grounds) defenses of positions they never took, without bothering to actually examine their actual prewar positions at all, much less repudiate them.

Your “intellectual exercise” today is an excellent case in point. I could offer numerous examples of what you wrote at the time, and how it squares with your recent attempt to justify what you now call your “conditional, one-time support” for war in Iraq. But you have the archives. You can see for yourself how you praised the New Republic for knocking down antiwar straw men, and wrote unequivocally and without support in the conclusion to a feature article on the neocons that “Saddam really must be removed.” And on and on and on.

At some point, perhaps when you are very old, you will probably have to accept the part you played in justifying a war that has killed tens of thousands and will undoubtedly kill many, many more. A war that, as you note, was fought for no good reason at all. Perhaps then you will look back with shame on your tireless efforts to make the people who got it right out to be softheaded fools.

I only hope that in the intervening years, when you are in a position once again to offer your pronouncements on the subject of sending young sons and daughters off to kill and die (as you no doubt will be, since no one is ever discredited for supporting a war, no matter how disastrous or criminal) you think twice about what war really is, and how heavily the burden of proof ought to fall on those who urge us to make it.

The Ape Man

Update: JMM actually responded quickly, and he seems to think I'm being unfair. I'm willing to entertain that notion but it's not clear from him short reply what part of what I wrote he takes exception to. If he comes back with something more concrete, I will investigate to see if perhaps I've overstated the case in some way.


Uncle Kevin said...

I've read his column 5 times and still can't quite figure out his point. He seems to be trying to stand on his head to say that "if we had been right, we would have been right". It ignores that significant numbers of people knew that "we" weren't right and that they collected support by hiding that fact. Furthermore, those from which it was hidden were kept in the dark because they basically never asked where the light switch was. The "checks" of the checks and balances dropped the ball and now they are trying to hide their complicity behind a wall of justification. I'm dubious history will be kind to them. God knows fate has already been unkind.

Adam P. Short said...

I think it's a subtle attempt to shift the discussion, and the trouble is it might work. The core of the antiwar movement opposed the Iraq war regardless of whether or not Saddam had chemical or biological weapons. So if the pro-war left can draw us into an argument about whether we should have invaded even if Iraq had "weapons of mass destruction" (a misleading term, as I have explained before), they make us look like lunatics.

Uncle Kevin said...

But isn't a fundamental problem that you can't ask "if they did" when "we" knew in advance that they probably DIDN'T. Not just knew, but worked to create the impression that they did? I believe the technical term is "begging the question". If they want to discuss the value of pre-emptive action, let's start with the concept that it comes with extrodinary burdens upon us to be right, and that this is a text book case of just how easy it is to be wrong, even when "everyone" says we're right. The very first discussion in pre-emptive actions is about how one can be sure enough to actually take it. It surely isn't by acting like the "pro-war left" acted, much less the "imbedded" reporters leading up to it.

Adam P. Short said...

That's the key point. A shaky case for war is no case at all - the burden of proof is astronomically high (or should be.)