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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Saturday, March 25, 2006

McIlheran Watch: The War at Home

And not that horrible Michael Rappaport show. (They canceled "Arrested Development" for that?)

No, Patrick McIlheran spends his Sunday column this week laying groundwork for the conservative response to the expected results in the April 4 anti-war referenda.

Aside from the abomination of using shoestring as a verb, P-Mac makes any one of a number mistakes. The first mistake is making it so obvious what he's doing: He throws out every single possible excuse for why Wisconsin will vote to end the war in Iraq sooner rather than later--everything from the voting patterns of the cities and towns involved (they were pro-Kerry in 2004) to the expected low turnout.

The second mistake is that all of those reasons are specious at best and libelous at worst. Let's look, with P-Mac in bold:
  • The referendums are only advisory, and, as many people have pointed out, common councils don't make foreign policy aside from lining up sister cities in Cuba.
    He's saying that whatever happens, it won't really matter anyway. But it will: Our leaders in Washington (and their apologists in the op-ed pages) don't seem to get it. A series of electoral defeats for an endless presence in Iraq may send the message, finally.

  • Spring elections are usually the haunt of enthusiasts, so a result will be determined chiefly by the dedicated and will be portrayed as the people having spoken.
    That means that if there is dedication on the pro-prolonging it side, they should win, right?

  • [Madison veteran Bill] Richardson and a couple other people are shoestringing a campaign, passing out lawn signs reading "Vote no to cut and run." [. . . H]e doesn't like the sentiments of citizens honestly tired of war to be manipulated to serve people with much harder agendas.
    This is the argument Jessica McBride has been flogging all week (see the latest here). Through a kind of Kevin Bacon-game logic, she's decided that everyone who tirelessly sought the signatures of their neighbors on petitions or stood up in city council meetings are being duped by the communists. Aside from the fact that there is no law against 1) being a communist or 2) agreeing with one on some matters, she's doing what my students might call "hating the player, not the game." There's a perfectly legitimate question here about whether the US should continue to keep our fighting men and women in harm's way, whether it's posed by the Boy Scouts or life-long peaceniks. If it were up to the powers that be--and, presumably, McBride and McIlheran--we'd get no say at all. To disparage those who worked to make these referenda happen as patsies is insulting.

  • Keep in mind what the referendums aren't asking. Voters won't be asked whether war is generally a bad thing. They won't be asked whether they wish the war were quickly concluded or whether Bush should have conducted it better. Any of these could find broad and deserved consent.
    In other words, the question was worded wrong. We're not going to get an accurate gauge of the public's will because they'll be busy answering some other question that I think we all know the answer to, he says, so the results will skew. I call this line of thought "managing expectations." It's baloney.

  • In these towns, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) beat Bush 67% to 33% the last time the voters got to have a say on the war. In only two did Bush get more than 60%. Given that, it's a decent bet that many of the referendums will pass.
    More managing, and irrelevant. Given the national numbers on Iraq, you'd be insane to predict failure of these referenda in even Bush-friendly towns.

  • When this is touted as a sign the nation wants to pack it in [. . .] keep in mind that it's [. . .] prompted by people who "want failure in Iraq," says Richardson, saying they're tired of war.
    It's nice that P-Mac puts this slander into the mouth of someone else (a good trick for you aspiring Ben Domenches out there), so he himself can't get blamed for lying about what people are really saying here, even if it's what he almost certainly thinks of us. In much the same way that Dick Cheney lies that Russ Feingold wants to protect terrorists, McIlheran creates a false impression that those of opposing the Iraq war are somehow joyous at the thought of losing, at the idea of thousands of dead Americans and tens of thousands of dead Iraqis, at the notion of indebting our children and grandchildren for this ill-fought war of choice. There is no solace there, only deep and abiding sadness. To say we want failure is to lie in the most reprehensible way.

    There's also some element of fiction in the notion that we want to "cut and run"--they tried that with Feingold, too, and with John Murtha. This is similar to the kind of fiction perpetuated by the Ozaukee County ballot question intended as a response asking people whether they support the war on terror. Of course we support fighting terror--a fight, flypaper theory to the contrary, not being carried out in Iraq.
McIlheran isn't the only apologist, of course. As more and more people realize that the incompetence we saw in the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina was not a fluke and was, instead, symptomatic of how badly this administration does everything, including Iraq, people who formerly supported the war effort are now taking two big steps backward. As the base of support for this deadly gambit wanes, the hard-core get harder. For example, the right Cheddarsphere is loving this Victor Davis Hanson essay today. Set aside, for a minute, that this is the same Hanson who wrote that we'd spend "no more $30 billion" in Iraq. Consider that he's so far drunk on the kool-aid that he can write this:
The insurrection broke out not so much because we had 200,000 rather than 400,000 troops in country; but rather because a three-week strike that decapitated the Baathist elite, despite its showy “shock and awe” pyrotechnics, was never intended, World War II-like, to crush the enemy and force terms on a shell-shocked, defeated, and humiliated populace. Many of our challenges, then, are not the war in Iraq per se, but the entire paradox of postmodern war in general in a globally televised world.
I'm not entirely sure what that means, but I think he's suggesting that no matter what we could have done in Iraq, there would have been no way to avoid the kind of insurgency (bordering on civil war) that we see now. Gee, I wish he would have figured that out three years ago and told someone in power who might have suggested that we give the inspectors more time to do their jobs.

The extent to which some will go to avoid having to admit that maybe, just maybe they made a mistake is quite amazing. In the end, McIlheran doesn't advocate a "no" vote exactly. He just guilts us with tales of Iraqis and purple fingers and, as if sending us on a time out, tells us to think hard about what our votes will mean on April 4. We have thought about it, Pat. For three years we have thought about it, and it's time we had our say.

Update: There's more.

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