Implication for the Long Run: Developments Last Week

John Turner


Naiveté

Orlando Patterson, a professor of sociology at Harvard, says the Bush administration was mistaken in thinking it could promote freedom in Iraq because freedom is a concept that appeals to all humans. Freedom, he says, is not universally desired and becomes a goal only after long discussion and development. Mr. Orlando may be knowledgeable about the history of freedom but he appears to know nothing about the history of the Bush administration. It did not invade Iraq because it wished to champion freedom. It invaded because it wanted to establish a power base there from which the region could be dominated and the flow of oil insured. Nothing in the Bush record indicates that he cares anything about freedom for a majority of citizens. Certainly, he has not been its supporter here at home.

It will be a travesty of history if the debacle in Iraq is attributed to misguided and ignorant idealism. The Bush people knew exactly what they wanted to do and idealism had no part in it. Ignorance entered with their notion that American military might was so impressive everybody in Iraq would lie down before it. It was a mistake in which arrogance was thoroughly mixed with failure to understand the culture expected to be dominated.


A Promise

The Hillary Clinton campaign has just received a boost of immense potency. Dick Morris has said he will leave the country if she is elected president.

There's not much I wouldn't do to get him as far away from the United States as possible. I know it's not nice to fob off our malignancies on other places. But anywhere else in the world Morris would be instantly recognized for what he is and function merely as an object of curiosity.

Every now and then I happen on him being interviewed by Bill O'Reilly on Fox News. And I ask myself, what have we done to deserve two such men in the same generation? I wonder if Morris could persuade O'Reilly to leave with him in the event of a Clinton victory. That would lock up the election right now, and we would be spared months of bizarre, perfidious campaigning.

The Clinton people ought to get on top of the opportunity and start asking selected personalities if they would emigrate when Hillary becomes president. I'll bet they could bag even more than Morris and O'Reilly. Just a few extra and they wouldn't have to spend a dollar on the race. With Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, and William Bennett added to the dynamic duo, Hillary could simply appoint a shadow cabinet and thwart everything George Bush tries to do over the next two years.

This has real possibilities.


Responsibility

Today the New York Times has a hard-hitting editorial about the military prisons in Iraq which includes this comment:

"We hope the new Congress will be more aggressive on this issue than the last one, which
was more bent on preserving the Republican majority than preserving American values
and rights. The lawless nature of Mr. Bush's war on terror has already cost the nation
dearly in terms of global prestige, while increasing the risks facing every American serving
in the military."

It's hard to read this piece without having a series of questions pop into your head.

If the U.S. military is composed of our best and brightest, most of whom are heroes, why have they constructed a system that is clearly evil?

Who's in charge of this system?

Who set it up?

Who is responsible for it?

Why do the American people accept it?

Is our population really so dim as to think that a system which terribly mistreats thousands can be run in our name without bringing trouble on our heads?

Guess what? I don't think our government officials will ever answer these questions, nor will they be asked persistently by our media.


Lasting Term?

I've noticed on the web that the most common term for an extreme xenophobic nationalist has become "wingnut.'" Here, for example, is Robert Farley, quoted in the Washington Monthly, on  soft rules of engagement as an excuse for why the struggle in Iraq isn't going well:

"Why is this suddenly so popular? The argument carries a lot of wingnut water. First, it emphasizes that the problem in Iraq is that we've been too soft, and suggests that a more hard-line, brutal approach would put the natives in line."

There is a serious problem in knowing how to designate people of the sort Farley is pointing towards. Journalists tend to fall back on "conservative" because though it's inaccurate it's also easy.  "Right-winger" is also used frequently, even though it covers so much ground it's hard to know what it means.

The most accurate word would be "hater." These are people who hate and want to kill anything different from themselves. They have only two solutions to the problems of mankind: either kill people or throw them in jail. But, "hater" has little chance of taking hold.

If "wingnut " becomes the word of choice I suppose it will be all right with me, even though I don't like the sound of it. What I really wish is that American journalists would begin to investigate why hostility towards anything not American is such a pronounced feature of our national culture. Then we might take a step towards learning not to try always to encapsulate complex behavior within a single term.


Folly's Persistence

At the end of his long, intelligent essay about Mary Cheney's pregnancy, Andrew Sullivan of The New Republic says, "In the battle between ideology and reality, reality always wins. Eventually."

This strikes me more as a statement of religious faith than of scientific fact. It's a faith I share, but I'm not sure it advances us towards an answer to the question Sullivan poses at the beginning of his piece: what are the Republicans going to do about homosexuality?

The truth is the Republicans have placed hostility to homosexuality so near the core of their message they probably cannot root it out without dissolving the party. One thing we know about Republicans: they would rather be politically successful than either right or humane. So, it's unlikely they will find a way to step away from their bigotry toward same sex unions.

Though reality always does win in the world at large, it does not always win within a political faction. There are many groups who would rather self-destruct than admit they have been wrong on a central issue, particularly when their wrongness is based not on thought but on visceral viciousness.

What may happen is that continued Republican attacks on homosexual people will increasingly reveal the nature of the party, so that it will be shoved ever farther toward the fringe of society. And that could open the way for a new, genuinely conservative party. That, of course would take decades. But, if it comes to pass, homosexuality can take credit not only for defending itself but for helping save the Republic.

A thing we can be confident of is that homosexuality will last longer than Republicanism will.


Familiar Tonic

Now that indictments have been issued in the case of the killings in Haditha on November 19, 2005, we will doubtless be treated to another full dose of the "bad-apple" theory. And many Americans will swallow it as though it were nectar from the gods. There's no accounting for taste.

A mystery of the current military operation in Iraq for me has been how the character of the American soldier could have changed so radically since I was one. The guys in the Army with me were generally good-natured, generally ignorant young men who were fully capable of turning into murderous slobs under the right circumstances. Now we hear that the American soldier is a paragon of everything pure and virtuous. How did this happen?

A convenience of commanding saints, I suppose, is that the higher ranking officers don't have to worry about keeping them under control. As Jim Talent, the Republican senator from Missouri noted back in 2005, our guys and gals wouldn't ever do anything bad. So when unaccountably, there turn out to be a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of bad apples, how could the chain of command have imagined such a thing?

Several decades ago I met a former Turkish army officer who had been reprimanded because one of the men in his unit broke his leg while working on a roof during his leave.  The theory was that the commander was responsible for everything his troops did. I thought that was a bit over the top at the time, but now I see that perhaps a step in that direction wouldn't be out of place for our own forces. If the field grade officers and civilian officers in the Defense Department are really so out of touch with their soldiers they don't know what the troops are capable of doing, maybe a dose of responsibility could restore their perception of reality.



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Harvard Square Commentary, December 25, 2006