It has a lot to do with the Iraq War
This week has been filled with Iraq War recriminations and re-evaluations. While official Washington was strangely silent about the 10th anniversary of the start of the conflict, journalists and intellectuals have been (predictably) more vocal. Prominent neocons have reaffirmed, with minor caveats, their support for the war. Some (erstwhile) liberal hawks have issued full-throated mea culpas. Other liberals, meanwhile, have tried to have it both ways, denouncing the war they once supported while praising its outcome. And of course, lots of people who opposed the war from the beginning, on the right and left, have declared vindication.
My own position on the war fits into none of these categories. Ten years ago, I was working as an editor at First Things, a monthly magazine that’s aptly been described as the New York Review of Books of the religious right. (And no, that’s not oxymoronic.) The magazine strongly supported George W. Bush’s original conception of the War on Terror, and so did I. In his speech to Congress and the nation on September 20, 2001, Bush stated that the United States would seek to decimate al Qaeda as well as every other terrorist groups of global reach. To this day I remain committed to that goal and willing to support aggressive military action (including the use of drone strikes) to achieve it. But thanks in large part to the Iraq War, I no longer consider myself a Republican or a man of the right.
The reason I continue (like President Obama) to support the original vision of the War on Terror is that it was and is based on a correct judgment of the fundamental difference between (stateless) terrorists and traditional (state-based) military opponents. Even the most bloodthirsty tyrant will invariably temper his actions in war out of a concern for how his adversary will respond, and he will likewise act out of a concern for maintaining and maximizing his own power. Political leaders can thus be deterred by actions (and threats of action) by other states. Members of al-Qaeda-like groups, by contrast, seek in all cases to inflict the maximum possible number of indiscriminate deaths on their enemies and demonstrate no concern about the lives of their members. They are therefore undeterrable, which means that the only way to combat them is to destroy them.
Unfortunately, the right began to disregard the crucial distinction between terrorists and states right around the time of the January 2002 State of the Union speech, when President Bush broadened the scope of the War on Terror to include an “axis of evil” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. After that, the mood among conservatives began to grow fierce. Some columnists denied the effectiveness of deterrence against states and advocated unilateral preventive war to overthrow hostile regimes instead. Others openly promoted American imperialism. Still others explicitly proposed that the United States act to topple the governments of a series of sovereign nations in the Muslim Middle East, including Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.
And these were the intellectually respectable suggestions, published in mainstream newspapers and long-established journals of opinion. Farther down the media hierarchy, on cable news, websites, and blogs, conservatives of all stripes closed ranks, unleashing a verbal barrage on any and all who dissented from a united front in favor of unapologetic American military muscle. The participants in this endless pep rally were insistent on open-ended war, overtly hostile to dissent, and thoroughly unforgiving of the slightest criticism of the United States abroad. Self-congratulation and self-righteousness ruled the day.
- A decade later and the Iraq debate is still contaminated with myths (syracuse.com)
- 10 years later, GOP still suffers from Iraq War fallout (nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com)
- | A decade later and the Iraq debate is still contaminated with myths! (truthaholics.wordpress.com)
- That Time When George W. Bush Got All Those People Killed, AKA The Iraq War (thedailybanter.com)
- New York Times Hypocrisy (rinf.com)
- Iraq: Ten Years on and the War on Terror is Still a Hoax (intellihub.com)
- Did Iraq War give birth to the Arab Spring? (wtee.wordpress.com)
- Linker: Why I Am No Longer a Republican (drudge.com)