I Have All The Answers (Part 493 In A Series)
17 March, 2005 - 08:59 — Bryan Lambert
Memo to Doubting Lefties: CUT IT OUT.
For the last month or two, I've started to hear an odd sentiment expressed by certain columnists and media types generally thought of as "left", "anti-Bush", and/or "anti-war". I've heard it from Jon Stewart, I've heard it from Bill Maher. I've read it in papers. That sentiment? "What if we were wrong?"
The idea being expressed here is that the sudden alleged flowering of freedom in the Middle East - the elections in Iraq, the anti-Syria rallies in Lebanon, the thawing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and um, this thing the president of Egypt said this one time about how nice democracy was - all these things are the direct result of Dubya's invasion of Iraq, and since these are good things, maybe the invasion of Iraq was a good thing. And thus, maybe the "left" was wrong about this whole Iraqi adventure.
I find this somewhat astonishing, and, at the same time, unsurprising, There is, in any self-respecting smart person, always the possibility that we may have to reconsider our position. That we may have been wrong about something. That maybe the guy we can't believe ties his own fucking shoes in the morning has suddenly stumbled upon a recipe for Middle East peace so counterintuitive that only a bonehead could have pulled it off.
There are a number of problems with this viewpoint, so allow me to tackle them in some kind of vague order.
THE FACTUAL: Freedom is not, despite what you may have heard, on the march. It's being made to seem that way via incredibly shallow news stories that do not provide details, background, or history. So you see a rally in Lebanon against Syria, and you see it a lot more often than you hear somebody mention, say, the assassination that sparked it. The Lebanese didn't look at Iraq and say "Let's get Syria!", they looked at the corpse of a beloved, anti-Syrian, former leader they think Syria killed. Some news organizations are deliberately placing stories like this in a framework of "democracy spreading in the Middle East", even though it's not really democracy, and it's not really spreading.
THE PHILOSOPHICAL: Let's assume, for a moment, that what is being said is what is in fact happening. That the Middle East really has taken a few significant steps toward freedom. And that these steps were the direct result of the Iraq war. And? A couple of good results do not mean things were done right, or in the right way, or even competently. You don't get to cherry-pick one success and suddenly use it to decide War Good! That ain't how it works.
Good things resulting from a bad idea do not vindicate the idea. Take, for example, the "Freedom Tower" they plan to build in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. Now, I suspect the plumbing in the Freedom Tower will be quite a bit more efficient and modern than the plumbing was in the World Trade Center. That's a good thing. Doesn't mean it was a great idea to ram two planes into the WTC, or that the Saudi hijackers were doing us all a favor we thank them for every time we turn on a tap in a Freedom Tower bathroom. That's not the way complicated situations resolve themselves.
THE TACTICAL: But it sure is how the administration would like you to THINK it works. Remember the election. These fucks have not admitted a single mistake from September 11 to this morning. Mistakes that have been found, like missing billions of dollars, or prisoner abuse, or corporate profiteering and fraud... these things have been ignored. Brushed off. Not a one of the bad things that's happened during the past three and a half years has served as a referendum on the pro-war side. So why the FUCK would we let the good things that happen become a referendum on the anti-war side?
I'll tell you why. Because the left constantly forgets that you cannot fight irrationality with rationality. It's rational to look back at your mistakes, learn from them, and change your worldview as events unfold. But it's no help against the irrational, who do not listen or accept that, but instead hold up giant flip-flops or scream "YOU WUZ WRONG AND WE WUZ RIGHT, HA HA".
The last thing we need to do is to engage in our rational soul-searching in the PUBLIC ARENA. The right has already picked that ball up and is running with it. They will take our reasoned doubt and twist it into an admission of complete and total defeat. They will manufacture doubt to twist where none exists. "Maybe we're wrong" becomes, in less than a news cycle, "When will they admit they're wrong?" It's the "Have you stopped beating your wife" question, only with Tim Robbins instead of Ike Turner. It's the Saddam Problem all over again.
The Democrats, in 2003 and 2004, never had a satisfactory answer to the question "Aren't you glad Saddam Hussein is out of power?" It reduced the war to two options: What We Did, and Loving Saddam Hussein. When confronted with one of these reducto ad retardums, Democrats, especially John Kerry, went into long equivocations. The instant this started, someone in the party should have come up with an Answer. It needed to be less than fifteen words long, and every single person from Hillary on down to Kucinich needed to be giving that answer every single time it came up. That, of course, didn't happen.
There ought to be an answer to "When will you admit you're wrong?" too. I suggest "When you prove you're right." It's pithy, it puts the onus of explaining complex geopolitics on the other guy. Counter their woo hoos with a big fucking whoop. Just because they've declared victory does not mean we're required to admit defeat. That'd be dumb.