June 17, 2006

Please, No More "Apologies"

Over the last couple of years, we have been treated to a feast of apologies from people who had initially supported the invasion of Iraq. Unhappily, these apologies have been of the kind that makes you violently ill shortly after being consumed. With no exception that I can recall at the moment, the food we've been offered has been variously impure, spoiled, moldy, rancid and rotten. I may have forgotten a couple of genuinely meaningful changes of mind. If I have, it's hardly surprising they've gotten lost amid the surfeit of putrid fare.

I criticize and reject all such apologies for several reasons. The most important of them is the following. In discussing the various elements involved in the belief in "Western exceptionalism" that underlies our foreign policy for the past century -- a perspective shared by our entire governing class, and including both Republicans and Democrats -- I recently wrote:
It is this same perspective that results in our political leaders, whether Republican or Democrat, and in most Americans minimizing the horror of an attack on Iran, or of our war on Iraq. The worst criticism to be offered about the catastrophe in Iraq by most members of the political establishment is that it was handled "incompetently." They are unable to say that our invasion of Iraq was immoral at the core, because they refuse to surrender the belief that we act for the "right reasons" and on behalf of history's "ultimate solution," which only we have. We may execute the plan remarkably poorly, but it can never be doubted that we had "good intentions."
This is the foundational point, one that is almost never acknowledged in our public debates. Iraq constituted no threat to us, and our leaders knew it. Therefore, our invasion and occupation of Iraq were and are naked acts of aggression. To fall back on the defense of "good intentions" is to confess that your actions have caused nothing but disaster and death -- but that you "meant well." None of the Iraqis who have suffered so grievously or who are now dead, and none of the Americans and others who have been horribly wounded or killed, gives a damn about anyone's intentions, good or otherwise. Neither should any decent and compassionate human being. When we contemplate the endless number of broken and bleeding bodies, it is morally repugnant to be asked to weigh, oh so carefully, the various elements in the war proponents' souls, simply to spare the extraordinary delicacy of the feelings of those who make certain they themselves never come anywhere near a battlefield.

Speaking of those who endlessly remind us of their exquisite sensibilities, as if that minimizes their bloodthirsty warmongering, we have also witnessed apologies that primarily demonstrate that the apologists have learned absolutely nothing at all. Exhibit A: Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan's apology (and any number of similar ones) is the moral equivalent of a murderer's insistent reassurances that he's sorry, so terribly sorry, that he broke into the house, smashed some dishes, and stole the television and high-tech sound system. And concerning all those dead bodies strewn about? Oh, he didn't mean for that to happen, so it barely merits an acknowledgment. His soul remains pure, at least in his fantasy version of reality. Now, about that bigger house down the street...but I'm getting ahead of myself.

In this setting, it is with a certain morbid fascination that we come upon John Derbyshire's "apology," which represents a bracingly clear acknowledgment of his own murderous nature. Derbyshire regrets only that we didn't slaughter a huge number of people in Iraq, and then immediately leave. Lest you think I exaggerate in even the slightest degree, consider these excerpts from "Apologizing for Iraq":
One reason I supported the initial attack, and the destruction of the Saddam regime, was that I hoped it would serve as an example, deliver a psychic shock to the whole region. It would have done, if we'd just rubbled the place then left. As it is, the shock value has all been frittered away. Far from being seen as a nation willing to act resolutely, a nation that knows how to punish our enemies, a nation that can smash one of those ramshackle Mideast despotisms with one blow from our mailed fist, a nation to be feared and respected, we are perceived as a soft and foolish nation, that squanders its victories and permits its mighty military power to be held to standoff by teenagers with homemade bombs, that lets crooks and bandits tie it down, Gulliver-like, with a thousand little threads of blackmail, trickery, lies, and petty violence.
Derbyshire is blissfully untroubled by the fact of the slaughter of tens or hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. We are providing "an example," we are delivering "a psychic shock." Yes, aggressive, unjustified murder tends to have that effect -- although corpses also are not likely to appreciate the lesson all that well. But Derbyshire is only concerned with sufficiently traumatizing the survivors, and the fewer of those, the better.

Derbyshire quotes his own explanation for supporting the invasion, written one year after it began:
[M]y attitude to the war is really just punitive, and Iraq was a target of opportunity. I am not a Wilsonian nation-builder. I don’t want to “bring democracy to Iraq.” I don’t, in fact, give a fig about the Iraqis. I am happy to leave barbarians alone to practice their unspeakable folkways, so long as they do not bother civilized peoples. When they do bother us, though, I want them smacked down with great ferocity.
Derbyshire -- and many other supporters of this war -- count on people's unwillingness to identify the full monstrousness that this represents. He goes through the usual rationalizations about how Saddam "brought this on himself" -- and completely elides the fact that we "punished" an entire nation for events with which it had no connection. But in Derbyshire's world, someone had to be punished after 9/11 -- and Iraq "was a target of opportunity."

This is pathology and immorality of genuinely shocking and extraordinary depth parading as foreign policy. People should recognize how deeply barbaric and sickening this is. Derbyshire has evicted himself from civilization, and we should grant him his wish.

As for conservatives' claims to represent moral responsibility and accountability, Derbyshire writes:
I’ve never been able to work up any guilt, either on my own behalf or the administration’s, about the WMD issue. So far as I am concerned, what did I know? Saddam’s behavior sure made it look as though he was hiding something nasty. As an ordinary citizen, getting my information from newspapers and the TV, I had every reason to suppose that the WMD claims were true.
What about all those "ordinary citizens" (and others) who saw through the charade and the endless lies from the beginning? They are nowhere to be found in Derbyshire's moral calculus.

Derbyshire sums up the reasons for his apology as follows:
So why am I eating crow? Because I think it was foolish of me to suppose that the administration would act with the punitive ruthlessness I hoped to see. The rubble-and-out approach was not one that this administration, or perhaps any administration in the present state of our culture, would be willing to pursue.
This, of course, leads us directly into the next installment of our neverending war, which we are told will last for generations. Earlier in his column, Derbyshire writes:
Given that Iran is the real looming threat in that region, are we better placed now to deal with that threat than we would have been absent an Iraq war? If we could ask President Ahmadinejad whether he thinks we are better placed, what would his honest answer be?
For the warmongers, it always comes back to Iran now. Iran, which will not be any kind of serious threat to us for at least five to ten years, if then. Iran, which is fully entitled to pursue nuclear technology under the nonproliferation treaty, to which it is a signatory. Iran, which has repeatedly indicated it wants to engage in full diplomacy and negotiation with the United States -- efforts which we are equally determined to rebuff.

Given Derbyshire's comments about Iraq and his overall perspective, his prescription is clear: just nuke the whole damned place. No need for even one American to ever set foot in Iran. And what if we unleash Armageddon? Warmongers like Derbyshire have conclusively established that they never think about consequences. They never think ahead at all. He has admitted as much with regard to his own support for the invasion of Iraq.

And now he does it all again, and this time Iran is in his sights. Most of the "apologists" are now aiming at the same target, and demanding action.

Given the depths of the irrationality repeatedly demonstrated by the Bush administration, it is impossible to predict what they will do with regard to Iran, or anything else. But here is one prediction that I offer nonetheless: if, come September or early October, Bush's political advisors think it likely that the Democrats will take over the House and/or the Senate, and if they seriously fear the investigations that the Democrats might pursue, I think it very likely that an attack on Iran will occur before the election. It may be preceded by a phony international "incident" of some kind involving an attack on U.S. forces or U.S. "interests" more generally, and responsibility will quickly be laid at Iran's door. Or, it might be another terrorist attack here in the U.S. itself.

Will our servile media or any prominent politician challenge the propaganda in the atmosphere of hysteria and phony "patriotism" that will be immediately unleashed? Of course not. The Bush administration has been laying the groundwork, carefully, repeatedly, and without interruption, for almost a year, and they have been met with no significant opposition at all.

Enjoy your summer. Come the fall, the bombs and missiles may well start flying. As to what the world and our country will look like after that...well, I think you can probably fill in the details on your own.

Even though I've written about these issues a great deal (see here and here), I admit that I find it almost impossible to grasp fully that this insanity could overwhelm all of us so soon. It's awful and horrifying to a degree that it almost doesn't bear thinking about.

But we'd damn well better think about it, every single one of us, and then figure out if there is anything at all we can do to prevent it.

And isn't there even one national figure who will identify this monstrousness and lunacy for what it is? Just one person who will call this administration on its total, unmitigated bullshit? Just one?