July 02, 2006

The Patrick Henry Response

Since almost immediately after 9/11, a succession of dishonest, vicious smears has been hurled at anyone who has dared even to question the wisdom of our aggressively interventionist foreign policy. And if you strongly criticize our endless interference in other countries' affairs -- almost all of which has been resolutely none of our business and which threatened us in no manner whatsoever -- no terms of damnation have been strong enough.

One of the most ridiculously illogical and incoherent smears has been the charge that anyone who opposed the invasion of Iraq -- a country that constituted no threat to anyone except its own citizens, that had nothing to do with 9/11 and no ties to Al Qaeda -- is a "Saddamite." I dealt with that one just recently:
In their own warmongering minds, the worst smear that many supporters of the invasion and occupation of Iraq can come up with, even now, is: "Oh, so you'd really prefer that Saddam were back in power, is that it? Why, you're a...a...a Saddamite!" They've had over three years to come up with better and more effective smears, and this is still all they've got. It is a measure of the bankruptcy of their arguments (I use the term loosely), and the vast arid stretches of their intellects.

For those who may have joined this discussion late, I will note only that this is a classic false alternative: either you support a war and occupation of aggression, contrary to all fundamental moral and legal principles, or you support a vicious dictator. Well, pardon me -- and pardon the rules of logic -- but no, for one starkly obvious reason: unless Iraq had been a genuine, serious, demonstrable threat to the United States, it was and is not our government's business. This is not a complicated point. One would think even simple warmongers might grasp it. Saddam was a vicious, brutal, murderous thug -- and it was not our government's business. He was no threat to us. Not our business.
Another smear directed at those who strenuously oppose our foreign policy is the accusation that such critics "hate America," or that they are "anti-American." Sheldon Richman references a discussion of this term, its history and usage from Robert Kagan -- and then proceeds to analyze what the charge actually means with his customary dispatch:
What do we mean when we say that anti-Americanism has returned? Kagan and others cleverly use the term "America" as a package deal — an assortment of disparate ideas that need to be separated and examined individually if we are to grasp the reality. What exactly do anti-Americanists dislike? There are several possible candidates: the people, the culture, the tradition of freedom, the commercial spirit, the U.S. government’s foreign policies.

The evidence is strong that non-Americans for the most part do not hate individual Americans or their culture, freedom, and commercial spirit. On the contrary, people in other most places seem to have a warm affection for Americans in their private capacity. Polls repeatedly show this, including polls done in Arab countries.

That leaves only one real object of foreign hostility, U.S. foreign policy. And let’s face it, what’s not to dislike? Since the end of World War II, a succession of American presidents and their diplomatic and military minions have treated much of the world like slow, pitiable stepchildren badly in need of their guidance. If their governments are following unwise policies, have no fear: an American president will set them right. And if they elect the wrong leaders, he will come to the rescue with a timely regime change. From the Dominican Republic to Iran, it’s happened repeatedly. But most Americans pay no attention.


The point here is that when Kagan writes about anti-Americanism, he’s deliberately using an equivocal term in order to elicit unthinking, knee-jerk anti-anti-Americanism in his readers. He likes the imperial U.S. foreign policy, so when foreign people express their hated for it, Kagan and his ilk misdirect us to think the foreigners hate us as individuals. The apologists for empire count on you not to examine the matter too closely, because if you did, you might see the merit in what the foreigners are saying.

America once signified the ideals of individual freedom, peace, and nonintervention. But if, as Kagan believes, Americanism now means imperialism, then good Americans should be "anti-American" too.
One of the most effective ways of squelching invalid and illegitimate smears -- that is, attacks that conspicuously avoid the merits of opposing arguments, and merely call a person's character into question -- is to identify their true meaning, and then throw the charge back in the face of the person who mistakes insults for facts and logic.

It's even better if you do it proudly, fully confident of the correctness of your views. Call it the Patrick Henry response. In that vein, I tend to respond more informally than the tone we see in the above excerpt, at least in conversation. If someone accuses me of being "anti-American," and if it's clear he is thereby referring to our non-defensive, imperialist, militantly interventionist foreign policy and its endlessly destructive, counterproductive consequences, I'm likely to say: "Hell, yes, I'm anti-American! Aren't you? Isn't everyone?"

That usually elicits a gasp followed by silence, sometimes accompanied by a stare of disbelieving horror. It's highly entertaining. I recommend that you try it at the earliest opportunity.