Tuesday, June 28, 2005

There they go again

Maybe you've had this experience, too; you read something on one of the blogs you regularly frequent, or on a blog to which that blog has linked, but you neglect to save it or link to it right away, and then when you think about it again and want to post something about it, you don't remember where you saw it.

Anyway, I recall reading a somewhat counterintuitive analysis a week or two ago of the infamous "pro-war" rallies orchestrated by Clear Channel and other self annointed "patriotic" media sultans and other conservative big money funders.

The analysis was that the rallies were not actually pro-war, or pro-military, or even pro-American. Rather, they were anti-American. They were anti-American in that their targets, the subjects the rallies set forth as the "enemy" were in fact, other Americans. Politically incorrect Americans that were perceived as not supporting the administration's push for "preventative war" to rout out possessors of WMD, etc, or else there would be another 9-11, blah blah blah. According to this perspective, which I share, the real enemies for conservatives and the administration are other Americans. Us. (and it is perhaps not so surprising that this conservative, anti-Americans angle has a religious twist, too).

Now, this is not necessarily a new finding, as the books spit out by the conservative publishing houses, talk show warriors, and the rhetoric on Fox News have been painting "liberals" with the brush of "treason" ever since Bush the younger entered the WH. And if we really tried hard enough, we could probably find some features of this attack in any one of the president's re-election speeches delivered somewhere in middle America last year.

But we hadn't really heard anything like this from the administration itself, at least so bluntly and coldly, and off the campaign trail, as was delivered by Karl Rove last week, accusing "liberals" of wanting harm to come to the "troops" and that liberalism as a philosophy and as a group of adherents, is inherently traitorous.

But as the war in Iraq has helped bring down the president's approval ratings, the administration/conservative establishment's need to find an internal enemy is hitting the big time.

Now the Wall Street Journal has an editorial up about how the failure of the war* in Iraq is our fault. Not the fault of the administration. Not the fault of the soldiers in the field (see Andrew Basevich's WashPost column today for an unusual but needed take on this last point). It's the liberal's fault. The WSJ's stupidity on this is as glaring as if we were to decide that the reason the NY Yankees (or pick your team) are losing is because the fans are too negative.

All of this is to suggest that the administration's failure in the Iraq war will soon be, and is even now being turned against its perceived opponents, the "unsupportive" and "un-American" elements in America.

For more on this, and I'm not sure how I missed this the first time through, here is another insightful analysis by the Whiskey Bar's Billlmon of the direction that the post-Iraq-war debacle is likely going to take:

But what Friedmans comment really drove home for me is how perilous the postwar political environment is likely to be for the remnants of American liberalism, and for the anti imperialist left in particular.

This may seem counterintuitive, since the national greatness conservatives and their Friedmanesque collaborators have just taken such a spectacular geostrategic belly flop. But if you look back at Americas post Vietnam experience, you may see my point. After a brief period of 70s soul searching, a rare example of American glasnost, the silent majority quickly repressed all doubt and buried the memory of defeat under the jingoism and cheap patriotism of Rambo Ron Reagan. The antiwar left had been right about Vietnam, practically as well as morally, (Ben Stein can bite me) and was punished for it.

It may have been inevitable. Great powers rarely accept military defeat gracefully, especially when the loss isnt total enough to compel acceptance. The Soviet defeat in Afghanistan may have been one of the rare exceptions where a lost war actually resulted in positive political change for the loser, positive at least when compared to the decaying Stalinist system it destroyed. But even there it was a close run thing.

In most cases, though, national humiliation tends to begat national denial and rage, and a hunt for someone or something to blame. As Robert Paxton observes about a certain central European country in his book The Anatomy of Fascism:

Germans had been shaken to their roots by defeat in 1918. The emotional impact was all the more severe because German leaders had been trumpeting victory until a few weeks before. So unbelievable a calamity was easily blamed on traitors.

Having led America to a thoroughly humiliating defeat in Iraq, the neocons and their Texas proteges will soon have an urgent need for scapegoats of their own. So will the journalistic and foreign policy elites who rushed to join Shrubs march of folly like the children of Hamlin following the pied piper. So will the Israel lobby. So will the pro-war Democrats.

The best scapegoat, of course, is one that is both blameless and weak. Blameless, because it relieves the truly guilty parties of the need to decide who among them must take the fall. Weak, because the guilty themselves have been weakened by defeat, and even a modest defense might enable a truly blameless set of scapegoats to convince the country of their innocence.

The antiwar left would seem to fit the bill quite nicely. It has little money, no power, few friends among the pundit class, and has largely been shunned by the leaders of the supposed opposition party, with the exception of Dr. Dean, and even he knows enough to keep his distance.

Unlike the antiwar libertarians, the antiwar left is not useful to the administration on other issues, like Social Security privatization. And, since the antiwar movement has been effectively blacked out in the media and is rarely visible in the streets, it certainly cant be rationally blamed for failure in Iraq, which means it almost certainly will be blamed, and not just by Tom Friedman.

Maybe tonight's "special" speech on Iraq by the president will continue the trend.

*The "failure" of the war in Iraq here is understood as its negative effect for the administration. Determining failure or success in this or any war is a more complex undertaking that involves a broader understanding of the war mission's range of objectives, both internal and external, both domestic and foreign.

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