Politics & Policy

Backstreet Driving

BACK-SEAT DRIVERS

Can we all please stop nattering at the guys doing the driving? In six days, Alliance armed forces have reached Baghdad, fought and won at least three major battles (one of them in a sandstorm!), while suffering fewer casualties to date than were lost in the first Gulf War – a war that everyone now remembers as a decisive American victory. The Alliance has achieved all this without the massive preliminary air barrage of the Gulf War – and despite the added challenge of making the wellbeing of the enemy’s civilian population one of their very highest war aims. We can’t call this success until the war is over – but can we please put a stop to the anxious fretting?

“CAKEWALK”

Some of the anxious are saying that they’re entitled to fret because the war isn’t the “cakewalk” they claim President Bush promised them. Well, I never heard President Bush promise a cakewalk. He made no promises that the war would be easy – and when he spoke about the war in private, he always stressed that digging Saddam out of power would be a bloody business.

Mickey Kaus cites my references to Bush’s realism about Saddam as proof that the President made up his mind to fight the Iraqi dictator even before 9/11. That’s not quite right. Yes, even before 9/11, Bush knew he would have to deal with Saddam someday. But then, we all knew that – that’s why Congress passed and President Clinton signed the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. Absent 9/11, though, I very much doubt that President Bush would be fighting Saddam now.

The decision whether to fight Saddam early or later involved a calculation of the risks of action against the risks of delay. Before 9/11, the risks of delay looked relatively small; 9/11 revealed them to be enormous. 9/11, I believe, was the trigger that persuaded Bush that he could not afford to wait any longer.

HECKLERS’ CORNER

Reaction to last week’s NR story on paleo continues to be heard. Two pieces that appeared yesterday seem to me to require some comment.

One of them appeared on the Lew Rockwell site by a writer named John Zmirak, who suggests that the secret of my politics is that I am a “fiscal conservative but a social liberal.” He does not support this point with any quotations or citations – for the very good reason that there are none to be found. In fact, the record shows exactly the opposite: that I began arguing the conservative case on issues like the defense of the traditional family from the time I began writing about politics in the early 1980s. Nobody is going to be much interested in reading through back issues of the Yale Daily News. But if interested in my background on these issues, readers might wish to take a look at my debate with Andrew Sullivan over gay rights in Slate in 1997, among many, many other examples.

The larger point is this: I don’t personally regard myself as a “neoconservative.” (The term seems to me to describe that generation of writers and thinkers who began as anti-communist liberals and moved right in the 1960s and 1970s. That’s not my biography.) Nevertheless, it was social issues – crime, urban disorder, the turn from civil rights to racial quotas, the attack on the family – fully as much as foreign-policy debates that transformed the hawkish liberals of the 1950s into neoconservatives in the 1970s.

Midge Decter’s classic essay, “The Boys on the Beach” – a critique of the homosexual lifestyle and culture of the 1970s – appeared in Commentary all the way back in 1980, before anybody had ever heard of such a thing as a “paleoconservative.” William Bennett and Terry Eastland published the first prophetic attack on affirmative action, Counting By Race, in 1979 – and then refused to institute quotas at the National Endowment for the Humanities when he was appointed chairman in 1981. Irving Kristol denounced Roe v. Wade the instant the decision was handed down. And so on and on. Whatever else the dispute with the paleos concerns, it isn’t traditional morality.

A second negative comment on my piece comes from David Keene of the American Conservative Union in yesterday’s edition of The Hill, a newspaper about Congress now being excitingly transformed by new editor Hugo Gurdon.

Keene claims that “When a nation is at war, there’s a tendency among those who support it to suspect that those who opposed it before the shooting started did so either because they were secretly biased in favor of the enemy or have somehow come to hate their own country.” And he goes on to argue that I have irresponsibly besmirched Robert Novak merely because of the latter’s s “disagreement with Bush’s Iraq policy.”

I suppose one of the dangers of writing a 7,000 word piece is that you run the risk that busy people – and Keene is one of the busiest conservatives in Washington – won’t have time to read it very carefully. So let me restate for the record: I did not criticize the antiwar conservatives I discussed in NR for mere opposition to the president’s Iraq policy. In fact, I explicitly praised those conservatives who questioned that policy for their valuable contributions to public debate:

“Questions are perfectly reasonable, indeed valuable. There is more than one way to wage the war on terror, and thoughtful people will naturally disagree about how best to do it, whether to focus on terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah or on states like Iraq and Iran; and if states, then which state first?”

I meant those words sincerely. In the very same issue of NR I also had a back-page column lavishly praising Heather MacDonald’s new book about policing – and Heather is an opponent of the Iraq war, which she regards as unwise and distracting.

It was not for disagreeing with the president’s Iraq policy that I criticized antiwar conservatives like Robert Novak and Patrick Buchanan (whom I note David Keene does not defend), but for succumbing to paranoid and anti-semitic explanations of that policy – a paranoia which led some of them, including Novak, to move to direct and indirect opposition to the Afghan campaign as well.

Let’s remember: The very day after the terrorist attacks, Novak was already writing his first column pinning the blame for the atrocity on Israel. On September 17, 2001, he alleged that the administration would never find bin Laden and would instead attempt “to satisfy Americans by pulverizing Afghanistan.” By year’s end, he was saying on television that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” This is something beyond mere dissent. David Keene concluded his piece with the observation that “Robert Novak was opposing this nation’s enemies before David Frum was even born.” That is true. Which makes it all the more disturbing that Novak has been so unwilling to live up to his own past record in the 18 months since 9/11.

09:17 AM

HOW’S THE WAR?

Just finished listening to an ITN reporter claim that – yes – the war is “bogging down” and that the palm trees of Iraq remind him of – natch – Vietnam. For some perspective, consider this column from Peter Worthington of the Toronto Sun. Worthington, a veteran of World War II and Korea, has covered more than 30 wars, revolutions, and international crises since the 1950s, winning more awards than any reporter in Canadian history. He was in Baghdad in 1958 and witnessed the murder of the Hashemite royal family. He also happens to be my father-in-law. Herewith his assessment, reprinted with permission.

What ís going on in the war against Saddam Hussein?

From headlines in newspapers, you’d think it was Iwo Jima or Stalingrad – yet the war may well turn uglier as the Americans and British close in on Baghdad. So far, the headlines give a stark picture: “Allied troops endure toughest day of fighting,” announced USA Today. “Rocky Road to Baghdad,” proclaimed the Sun. “The Longest day,” said the Toronto Star. “Setbacks plague alliance,” declared the Globe and Mail. Even the New York Times joined in: “Firefights on the route to Baghdad.” “Fierce resistance,” a Sunstory said. “The battle rages,” said another. On Monday the Dow Jones Average plunged 306 points. Media outlets like the CBC could hardly contain their enthusiasm at what seemed setbacks in the war to eliminate Saddam.

Setbacks? What setbacks?

Pockets of fighting in Basra, perhaps, where the local Shia population is said to be attacking Iraqi army regulars who’ve donned civilian garb to harass the

British?

Iraqi soldiers dressed as civilians welcoming Marines, and then turning guns on them?

A U.S. army maintenance crew taking a wrong turn (lousy map reading?) and

getting ambushed?

As of this writing there have been 17 Britons killed, 20 Americans killed, and 14 captured or missing. Any loss of life is regretted, yet it’s an astonishingly low toll considering the numbers involved and the fighting reported.

Take away the deaths from helicopter crashes, or bumping into each other in the air, and exclude that recovery team that got ambushed, and the Marines killed by troops posing as friends, just what have the fatalities been?

One Briton has been killed by enemy action, and two Marines killed in ground combat. Those casualties belie the headlines – and are far less than the 148 Americans killed in action in the 1991 Gulf war, with a couple of hundred killed in

accidents.

Until reaching the environs of Baghdad, troops have encountered pockets of resistance but no do-or-die battle lines. They are taking their time with the

isolated fire-fights, and risk little. The enemy is winkled out, usually without fatalities to Americans or Brits.

At Basra, the Brits refrained from shelling the city and hitting civilians. They’ve shown restraint that has never before been seen in warfare. The “defense” of Basra has really been the British not willing to kill people unnecessarily, nor endure futile casualties.

The rewards of restraint are that local anti-Saddam elements are now rising against Saddamís troops. About time.

Those who shuddered at the spectacle of enormous explosions in Baghdad, and in Mosul and Kirkuk, can’t imagine such attacks without horrendous casualties.

Yet, even Iraqi officials talk of a couple of hundred injured that first night, with a handful killed. The figure seems preposterously low, yet precision weaponry is such that only regime targets seem to have been hit– no hospitals, orphanages and such. Yet on the CBC we hear comparisons with Dresden in WWII, the Blitz on London, fire bombs in Tokyo. All false.

There’s been no blackouts in Baghdad, no disruption of the water supply, hydro plants or residential areas. Life goes on more or less as normal. Journalists inside Baghdad report people seem unduly confident that only Saddamís infrastructure will be attacked, not civilians.

This is a war unlike any we’ve seen before–and journalists are witnesses with the attacking formations. Put in context, when there are only three deaths in

direct combat, and 51 deaths all told, mostly from accidents, it means the war is going pretty well, and pretty humanely.

But you’d never know it from the headlines.

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