Albert Camus wrote “The innocent is the person who explains nothing.” This rather opaque observation describes the left’s increasing stridency when alluding to their guiltlessness in undermining the morale of the American people for carrying on the War in Iraq. In fact, liberals are employing a strategy that attempts to obscure their stated desire that the United States lose the war while at the same time, deflecting attention from a 4 year effort to convince the American people that trying to bring democracy to Iraq was a hopeless exercise in wishful thinking and that the war has been a lost cause from the start.
They deny it, of course. In fact, they get downright nasty if you even try and point it out. They will whine that their criticisms of the war effort have been misconstrued. They were simply trying to help win the war by pointing out the incompetence and wrongheadedness of the Bush Administration. They really had the US interests at heart all along.
Yes, I have an eight foot invisible rabbit as a friend too.
Never wanting for originality and creativity in seeking to defend themselves, the left is employing a tactic that in another time and other circumstances, they profess to abhor. They have adopted the doctrine of preemption while at the same time, using a tried and true favorite analogy that ties the right’s criticism of their curious sense of patriotism to the Nazis.
They claim the right is sharpening their knives in anticipation of employing a “stabbed in the back” defense for our inevitable defeat in Iraq.
It is gratifying that the left has adopted this meme preemptively. Perhaps they can be persuaded to apply pre-emption to other, more important areas of debate such as the well being and survival of the United States. Then again, I haven’t seen any pigs flying lately so I would guess we’ll have to do without any change of heart in that quarter.
This won’t be the first time the left has employed preemption as a tactic in order to go on the offensive against the Bush Administration and the right. You will recall in the immediate – and I mean immediate – aftermath of Katrina, the left was in full throated howl regarding the incompetence and uncaring nature of the relief effort less than 24 hours after hurricane force winds had died down in the stricken city of New Orleans. At a time when the overwhelming majority of Americans were paying attention to the victims of this natural disaster, the left chose to open a vicious personal attack on the President that was unprecedented in modern history in the aftermath of a calamity. Relying on media reports that later turned out to be bogus as well as trotting out the racial angle, and an anti-war meme about the National Guard to boot, the Katrina Narrative was born. The left was able to define the parameters of the debate over the relief effort simply by getting there first with the most ammunition – whether that ammo was based on facts or not.
But this latest attempt at preemption is designed to fulfill the dual purpose of defending the indefensible and changing the dynamic of any postwar debate by raising the specter of conservatives as Nazis. I must say it is a brilliant strategy in that it seeks to completely absolve liberals from any kind of responsibility for undermining the confidence of the American people in the President and the war as well as making themselves appear as the victim of conservative storm troopers.
As far as I can tell, this meme first saw the light of day a year ago in an article by Kevin Baker in Harpers. After helpfully giving the reader some background on the origin of the “stabbed in the back” legend – a legend not started by the National Socialists but rather by the German High Command’s Luddendorf and Von Hindenberg to excuse their defeat by blaming “socialists” in the new Weimer government – Baker connects the theme to modern conservatives and the idea that the very first use of the stabbed in the back (dolchstosslegende) attack on the left was the result of the right’s paranoid fantasies about a “betrayal” at Yalta by FDR:
The right wing’s dolchstosslegende was a small but fateful conspiracy, engineered through â€œsecret diplomacyâ€ at Yalta. Its linchpin was Hiss, a junior State Department aide at Yalta who was now described as a major architect of the pact. Hiss was a perfect villain for the right’s purposes. He was not only a communist and a spy; he was also an effete Eastern intellectual right down to his nameâ€”and, by implication, possibly a homosexual. He had been publicly exposed by that relentlessly regular guy, Dick Nixon, as an unnatural, un-American element who had used his wiles to sway all of his superiors in the Crimea.
Just how he had accomplished this was never detailed, but it didn’t matter; specificity is anathema to any myth. Bullitt and an equally flamboyant opportunist of the period, Congresswoman Clare Boothe Luce, offered a more general explanation. The Democrats, Mrs. Luce had already charged, â€œwill not, or dare not, tell us the commitments that were overtly or secretly made in moments of war’s extermination by a mortally ill President, and perhaps mortally scared State Department advisers.â€
The idea of the â€œdying Presidentâ€ at Yalta was plausible to much of the public, who had seen photographs of Roosevelt looking suddenly, shockingly gaunt and exhausted throughout much of the last year of his life. To the right wingâ€”which had conducted a whispering campaign against Roosevelt throughout his term in office, claiming that his real affliction was not polio but syphilis, and that he, his wife, and various advisers, including Hopkins, were â€œsecret Jewsâ€ and Soviet agentsâ€”it all made perfect sense. To the many Americans who still loved Roosevelt and whose votes the Republicans needed, FDR himself could now become the Siegfried figure, a dying hero betrayed by the shady, unnatural Hiss.
Note that Baker skillfully mixes legitimate criticisms of Yalta with the paranoid right’s insistence of a conspiracy. For instance, Baker relies on FDR admirers to debunk the notion that Roosevelt was in any way hampered by his declining health. But historians are not of one mind on the issue, most notably Michael Beschloss
Roosevelt’s illnesses toward the end of the war were well known to his inner circle, and Stimson and Secretary of State Cordell Hull were openly defying the president by late 1944. And though Beschloss says in his book that Roosevelt wasn’t as easygoing with Stalin as some have suggested, he acknowledges that FDR’s health couldn’t help but affect talks at the 1945 Yalta Conference and afterwards.
“At the very end, Roosevelt was not what he was,” he said. “But he felt he should delay [making certain policy decisions] until the last possible minute.” The catch was, when FDR died in April 1945, nobody knew exactly what he had planned to do, which forced Truman into a quick learning curve.
Baker’s point about Yalta – that it was the best deal that could be gotten at the time – was true up to a point. Should FDR have known that Stalin had no intention of abiding by certain terms of the agreement relating to free elections in Eastern Europe? Roosevelt was no starry eyed worshipper of Stalin and knew perfectly well what the Soviet dictator was capable of. Since we can rule out naivete we are left with cynicism – signing a document that FDR knew would be honored in the breach. This, in fact, was the responsible criticism of the agreement coming from the right. I happen to agree (others don’t) that FDR got the best deal possible at Yalta and that it is over the top to suggest we “sacrificed” Eastern Europe. But there is little doubt that the agreement itself gave Stalin a free hand to meddle in post war elections – especially in Poland and Czechoslovakia.
We could go on about Yalta as an historical event but Baker used it to highlight what he saw as the original version of the stabbed in the back theme used by the right. No doubt the Birchers, the isolationists, and even some mainstream Republicans signed on to this paranoia. But to compare the right at the time of Robert Taft to the right of today is extraordinarily stupid. With the exception of a few mossbacks, conservatism has evolved far beyond the narrow strictures of the 1950’s with its deadening conformist orthodoxy to become a dynamic intellectual force for change. Even today, with the movement in disarray and the Republican party without a clue, there is incredible dynamism to be found in conservative thought. How that will translate into change and reform is still an unknown but to compare today’s conservatives with the “Who Lost China?” crowd is repulsive and ignorant to boot.
Baker could care less if his exaggerated myth making about conservatives is accurate because he’s not out to prove anything about Yalta, or Viet Nam, or any other historical event except as they can be used to buttress his thesis that the coming post-war debate on Iraq will try and pin the blame for any defeat on the left. But there is a subtle yet significant difference that Baker and others on the left are failing to make clear when preemptively accusing conservatives of contemplating perfidious accusations regarding the left’s loyalty. And that is quite simply, no responsible conservative I know is blaming the left for the monumental blunders, mistakes in judgment, errors of omission and commission made by the Bush Administration in the prosecution of the military aspects of the war in Iraq. The blame there rests solely and exclusively with the President and his people.
What I and I hope other conservatives will blame the left for is a deliberate, coordinated effort to undermine the confidence of the American people in the war by carrying out a campaign of personal destruction against President Bush while positing several crazy, paranoid conspiracy theories of their own.
(Note: I am not going to accuse the media of the same tactics because I believe reporting from Iraq – which has been abominable – can be explained by the fact that this conflict has proven to be impossible to cover in any traditional sense. With 74 journalists killed in Iraq since 2003, the western press has not only been forced to rely on stringers of unknown ability and whose loyalties can only be guessed at but also, they have been extremely limited in their ability to supply background and context to the story of the war. This is a story begging to be told and I suspect it will be soon enough.)
Dinesh D’Souza (I know he’s a bomb thrower but I’m only quoting his research into leftist thoughts on Iraq) supplies some of the evidence to make my case:
It seems that there are many on the left who want Bush to lose in Iraq. â€œThe United States needs to lose the war in Iraq as soon as possible,â€ Gwyne Dyer writes in a recent book. Michael Moore claims that â€œthe Iraqis who have risen up against the occupation are not â€˜insurgentsâ€™ or â€˜terroristsâ€™ or â€˜the enemy.â€™ They are the Revolution, the Minutemen, and their numbers will growâ€”and they will win.â€
Moore may be right, but whatâ€™s striking is that he appears to be cheering them on. He is not unique in his sentiments. â€œI have a confession,â€ Gary Kamiya wrote on salon.com after the U.S. invasion of Iraq. â€œI have at times secretly wished for things to go wrong, wished for the Iraqis to resist longer. Wished for the Arab world to rise up in rage.â€
Indeed there are many on the left who seem to hope and work for the war in Iraq to end in dismal failure. Susan Watkins, editor of the New Left Review, affirms that â€œU.S.-led forces have no business in Iraqâ€ and â€œthe Iraqi people have every right to drive them out.â€ Political scientist Robert Jensen argues that the U.S. is losing the war in Iraq â€œand thatâ€™s a good thing. I welcome the U.S. defeat.â€ Sentiments such as this have been expressed by leftists like Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and Markos Moulitsas.
I agree with Glenn Reynolds that much of this defeatist wish making – a theme that has endured since the war even started – is really all about Bush and the left’s utter and complete hatred of anything and everything he has ever done.
They have posited conspiracy theories involving the wildest, most ridiculous charges of vote stealing in both 2000 and 2004. In fact, one could say that the number one goal of the left these past 6 years has been to delegitimize the President of the United States as the rightfully elected leader of the country. The exaggerated and bogus narratives liberals have used to “explain” why we went into Iraq – from enriching Bush and his cronies to revenge for Saddam’s attempt on his father’s life – would have been laughed out of existence a decade ago but have been given credence by both rabid dog bloggers and mainstream Democrats alike. (The paranoid nature of these conspiracy theories mirror the same nonsense brought out by Baker above.)
And it has worked like a charm. The integrity of the President, his motives, and everything that a Chief Executive depends on to carry out the duties of his office, has been systematically undermined by the most hysterically overwrought charges of “fascism” on the home front and “misleading us into war” overseas. It is an easy step to make from there to preemptively defend yourself using what is basically a Nazi analogy while denying something that no one is actually accusing you of doing. If the war is to be “lost” (and liberals will make damn sure that no matter what happens, they will find themselves in agreement with the enemy and a loss it will be), the strategies of the Bush Administration will be to blame. But please don’t play the innocent when it comes to trying your damndest to destroy the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the Administration.
I’m not ignoring the correlation between everything that has gone wrong in Iraq and a loss of will of the people to continue what by all accounts has been a botched effort to win the peace. But one is forced to wonder if the people would have been more forgiving of the blunders and would be sticking with the Administration today in much larger numbers if the left hadn’t been insidiously chopping the President off at the knees by falsely accusing him of every perfidy known to man.
Jonah Goldberg wonders if the stabbed in the back meme isn’t just a lot of puffery. He responds to a Ross Douhat post where the Atlantic Online blogger uses the Nazi analogy approvingly:
Now, it’s nothing new for liberals to draw invidious comparisons between American conservatives and Nazis, but I’m not clear why Ross so gamely goes along with it. If you read his post today, he uses the “stabbed in the back” phrase uncritically. Why? Why not just talk about the Vietnam syndrome? Or media bashing? Which, after all, is what he’s really talking about anyway. I’m not reflexively opposed to the comparison to the end of WWI Germany, but nobody’s really tried to make it in any serious way. The assertion has simply caught on. In that sense it really is a meme, an idea that spreads around because of its superficial seductiveness alone. (Oh and please spare me the emails from people who seem to know what I write in my book better than I do. You don’t).
And speaking of the Vietnam syndrome, I think Ross is basically wrong when he says that the Vietnam syndrome didn’t help conservatives. Vietnam saturated American politics in myriad ways that helped the Reaganite Right, particularly after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, become the party of American confidence. “Morning in America” makes little sense without Vietnam. This is not to say that I think blaming the liberal media is a particularly persuasive explanation on the merits for failure in Iraq (if we fail), but it’s far from clear that an American defeat in Iraq helps those Democrats who seemed, fair or not, determined to make failure a self-fulfilling prophecy. He may be right that if we fail in Iraq, conservatives will shrink their appeal if they blame anyone but themselves. But my guess is that the psychological and geostraategic fallout from failure will be sufficiently enormous and complex that nobody can predict who comes out a winner or a loser from it.
Does the constant drumbeat from the left predicting failure or saying outright we’ve already failed have an effect on the people’s morale and consequently their support for continuing the effort in Iraq? Are they seriously trying to deny that this hasn’t been a deliberate effort to sap the confidence and will of the American people? I think they are. And the way they are doing it is by changing the subject to one where they posit themselves as victims of the right wing smear machine not as perpetrators of actions that by any standard has given aid and comfort to the enemy – who, after all actually counted on the left to perform in this manner since it was the only possible way they could be victorious.
Nice try but it won’t wash.
Every action taken by al-Qaeda, the insurgents, and the militias has been with one eye glued to western media to see how their useful idiots on the left have been reacting to the heartless brutality in killing so many of the innocent thus making Iraq an extraordinarily difficult place to govern. Their strategy has worked to perfection. The left has predictably played their role as destroyer of the people’s will while the Bush Administration has obliged them by committing one mistake after another in trying to defeat them. The combination has been unbeatable – for the enemy.
So yes, blame Bush and his people for what they should be blamed for; the incompetent prosecution of an ill-planned war. But if blaming the left for deliberately seeking to break the will of the American people to carry on the struggle to at least the point we could leave behind some semblance of a viable Iraqi state means that I will be called a back stabber, allow me to coin a phrase: Bring It On.