January 17, 2007

Just STFU, Chait

Oh, Jonathan Schwarz! Yoo-hoo! You, sir, are a prevaricator!

That's what I first thought when I read this post, and the excerpt from Jonathan Chait's latest column that Jonathan Schwarz included. "No," methinketh, "Chait couldn't possibly have said that! That [to use Jonathan S.'s apt phrase] is dangerously insane!"

But then I thinketh on it more. "Jonathan S. is one smart guy. I mean, really smart. (And funny! Never forget the funny. Buy his book.) He couldn't have misread Chait that badly, even if Chait is dangerously insane." So I read Chait's column. Chait actually, truly, as real as the blinding pain in my head when I contemplate the fact that Chait is a columnist published in the freakin' Los Angeles Times and Jonathan S. and I aren't, said it. Chait burbles:
[Jonathan] Schell insisted [in 1990] that we could force Iraq to leave Kuwait with sanctions alone, rather than by using military force. But the years that followed that war made it clear just how impotent that tool was. Saddam Hussein endured more than a decade of sanctions rather than give up a weapons of mass destruction program that turned out to be nonexistent. If sanctions weren't enough to make him surrender his imaginary weapons, I think we can safely say they wouldn't have been enough to make him surrender a prized, oil-rich conquest.
[Irrelevant note to self: Why is everyone in this post named "Jonathan"? Well, except Saddam. And me. Does this mean anything?]

Read Jonathan S. on these burbles from The Snake Pit. I have a few comments of my own to add.

Let's take Chait's deeply offensive opening paragraph:
I DON'T WANT to accuse American doves of rooting for the United States to lose in Iraq because I know they love their country and understand the dire consequences of defeat. But the urge to gloat is powerful, and some of them do seem to be having a grand time in the wake of being vindicated.
The magnanimity toward "American doves" is overpowering, like the stench of rotting corpses. And that, you miserable son of a bitch, is the point. Those of us who opposed the war and occupation of Iraq wanted to avoid all the unnecessary deaths and maimings that have resulted from our actions, and from our damnable "war of choice." Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis and tens of thousands of Americans are dead and maimed because of what we have done. Most of us don't give a damn about gloating: we want the killing to stop. We wanted it never to begin.

Speaking only for myself, I disavow the term "dove," since it is obviously intended only as a smear. If Chait means to denote pacifism, I am not aware of any significant public figure who opposed the Iraq war whom it would fit. There may be one or two, but they don't readily leap to mind. I recognize that war is sometimes necessary, although extremely rarely. Most of the wars the United States has fought in the last 60 years were entirely unnecessary -- including Korea, Vietnam and, certainly and absolutely, Iraq. (If we extend the time line farther into the past insofar as unnecessary and deleterious U.S. involvement is concerned, the list of unnecessary wars must begin with World War I, which led to most of the other conflicts of the twentieth century, and the effects of which still reverberate around the world today, most especially in the Middle East.) For the ten millionth time: Iraq did not attack us. Iraq did not threaten us. Both propositions were entirely clear before the first soldier set foot in Iraq. Not one of the deaths, and not one of the damaged lives, need have occurred. And they should not have occurred, if one gives a damn at all about people's lives.

The primary motives behind Chait's column are transparently clear: first and foremost, he is desperately afraid that he and the many other pundits similarly situated might actually suffer entirely deserved consequences for having been so profoundly wrong about this foreign policy catastrophe. This just fate is one Chait is absolutely determined to avoid. So he is similarly desperate to denigrate and disparage anyone who dares to call him to account. You can sense the tremors of anxiety that wrack Chait's body, and the sweat that pours off him like a torrent. Think of Albert Brooks's on-air breakdown in Broadcast News. Chait's column is laughably pathetic. The Los Angeles Times should be mortified to have published it.

In his final paragraphs, Chait reveals that -- despite his claims to the contrary, and just like Andrew Sullivan -- he has learned precisely nothing from this ongoing debacle, one whose consequences will be felt for decades:
There are many lessons to be absorbed from Iraq. We'd be foolish not to absorb them; only the most dense war supporter has come away from the experience unhumbled. But the failure of a criminally negligent administration to carry out a highly challenging rebuilding task in the most hostile part of the world does not teach us everything we need to know about the efficacy of military power.

Of course we'll learn lessons from Iraq. I'm worried that we'll learn too much.
The highlighted sentences are critical. Chait's reference to "a criminally negligent administration" falls within the ambit of the first major error I discussed here: "Trapped in the Wrong Paradigm." Chait does not object to the fact that we began an immoral and illegal war of aggression, in defiance of international law and minimal norms of conduct abroad. He objects only to the fact that the occupation has been managed "incompetently." If it had been managed "well," he would have no objection at all. War criminals have been hanged for less.

The other critical phrase is this one: "the efficacy of military power." And there is the awful truth: what Chait seeks to preserve above all else is positive belief in "the efficacy of military power." More directly: whenever he and the other hawks again decide the time is right, he wants to be sure they can do it again.

That's all. That's the whole thing. They want to do it again. Maybe not next year, but sometime. Less than three decades separate the final withdrawal from Vietnam from the invasion of Iraq. We were supposed to have "learned" the lesson about aggressive, non-defensive wars from Vietnam. We didn't. And the hawks are determined that the lesson will escape us once more, even after Iraq.

Whether it's Iran, North Korea, or somewhere else, they'll tell you the next war is necessary for our self-defense, just as they did about Iraq. It won't be true next time either, just as it wasn't true in the case of Vietnam, Iraq or World War I. But they are determined to be able to do it again.

No one is "gloating," Chait. We want only one thing: we want you to stop preaching about the glories of war, and "the efficacy of military power." We want you to stop killing people and ripping bodies apart when you don't have to. With very, very rare exceptions, you never have to.

To put it more simply: we want you and the other warmongers to shut the hell up. Since you won't and because your "dangerously insane" burbles unaccountably continue to see the light of day, we want to make sure that fewer and fewer people listen to you, or believe one word you write or speak.

May the day come when no one listens to you at all. May it come very, very soon.