A Mind That Suits What doesn't kill me, makes me laugh... usually.

Friday, December 31, 2004 :::

That was the reaction elicited by a lengthy editorial in the Wall Street Journal this morning. That once mighty source of rigorous argument and diligent reporting offered its assessment that 2004 marked the end of the romantic view of terrorists.

That may be plausible--a word to which we will return--when one looks at international cooperation on criminal investigations. If most European countries afforded their own citizenry the civil liberties we take for granted, even under the “onerous” Patriot Act, then a whole host of terrorists would still be running around. (Those “French citizens” from Guantanamo that we had to give up were returned to the loving hands of their government, and have not been heard from since. One wonders if French even has a word for “public defender.” ACLU, telephonez chez vous.)

Today’s editorial bore the marks of some of the larger misunderstandings that seem to plague discussion of the “war on terrorism” on the Right, misunderstandings that form the core of a piece that will appear here in the New Year.

What drew the sigh was the confident allegation that “in Iraq, things are gradually turning America’s way.”

The evidence for that? The failure of the majority of Sunnis to rise up and defend Fallujah. “The only voice to heard from the proverbial Arab street” was the infamous Mr. Zarqawi's cursing Muslim clerics for failing to support him.

There has been the dizzying sensation during this whole wretched season that, in asking questions of nominal conservatives, one finds oneself talking instead to liberals, judging by their intellectual style. Liberals are past masters at what this writer long ago dubbed “single-facting.” That is, it is impossible to talk to many liberals because they always bring out one fact that is supposed to make you smack your forehead and say in breathless awe, “I never thought of that.” Perhaps a better name for this lazy and annoying reflex is “my gay friend.” You know, if the subject of gay marriage comes up, the liberal always cites “my gay friend” who is so loyal to his lover of “so many years” as evidence that any opposition to gay marriage is based on blind ignorance or worse.

Once, this did not form the staple of conservative intellectual discourse, which had stood head and shoulders above anything on the left over most of the last 40 years, but it does now. Wonder about troop morale? Why, here’s a letter from Johnny next door who says how much everyone in his company is just proud to serve. You can just ignore the kid from down the block who lost his arm and complains bitterly that no one has explained why he had to go over there in the first place. Well, morally and intellectually, you can’t, but if you write for certain publications, you do anyway.

The “evidence” cited above to prove that “things are gradually turning America’s way” certainly doesn’t merit the name. For one thing, if anyone is really keeping track of what those clerics are saying, he has not been reporting it. One hastens to add that it must be a survey of all the clerics, and not just the one from next door. Moreover, what is the evidence that many Sunni leaders don’t want the elections to fail? How about, they do, but they also don’t want anything to do with Zarqawi. What about all those newly minted police in Mosul who greeted the fleeing Fallujah insurgents with open arms and joined them? What is the evidence that a violent minority hasn’t terrorized the Sunni into sitting out the election? The leader of the largest Sunni party has already called on people to avoid the election--though it must be pointed out that it is hard to be certain it is the largest party, just as it is hard to know if many Shi’a really agree with the Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, who has been granted a status by some American writers that goes beyond what a “Grand Ayatollah” really is. We do know that there are so few Sunni candidates that the Shi’a leaders are thinking of just giving them seats in parliament.

(If the Sunnis overcome their fear and go to the polls, the way the Afghanis did, it will inspire awe in this writer. He is not saying the election is doomed. He is saying it is problematic. The question is, are the Pollyannas on the Right preparing themselves for all possibilities?)

What are the reasons for this intellectual flabbiness? Part of it might be that many conservative intellectual leaders have received their training in political science or some other social science, and not history and philosophy. Many also took part in debate in school, which these days rewards those who blow the most smoke (thanks to a scoring system created by Larry Tribe, which should tell you.) Part of it also comes from a faulty belief that knowledge comes from defending propositions, from collecting positive examples. It does not: on what the Medieval philosophers called “contingent” facts--ones that can be either true or false--the only way to find out the truth is to test and criticize, and then test and criticize some more.

But ultimately what it comes down to is too many lunches. The conservative intellectual establishment is so big that, until things really started to unravel in Iraq, many conservative columnists would start a piece, “As my good frend X said to me just yesterday…”

Whatever the reason, conservatism has achieved a state of genuinely inferior intellectual discourse. Victor Davis Hanson provided an excellent illustration recently when he defended Donald Rumsfeld, as is his wont. He dilated on that favorite topic of his because some very respectable voices had been enraged by the good Secretary’s response to that staged question from a soldier about armored Humvees. And how did Prof. Hanson describe that response. “Plausible.” That’s it. That’s acceptable. “Plausible” is good enough.

But it’s not. It's really not. West Point Professor Frederick Kagan, in the Weekly Standard, provided a list of decisions--all a matter of public record--coming from Mr. Rumsfeld which showed that we went to war with the Army Donald Rumsfeld wanted. So the response was “plausible” only if you strip it from its context, which conservative intellectuals are never supposed to do. Nor are they supposed to cut anyone slack because he means well. If you put that response back in its context, then it becomes clear what Sec. Rumsfeld dared utter to our troops, and it is worth pointing out that we used to be the party of personal responsibility.

Two last observations to show that the closely argued editorial this morning could better be described as circular.

It is true that the Shi’a seem committed to this election. Regular readers of this blog know that the head of the Shi’a list of candidates is the head of something known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a man who favored the American invasion exactly because it would afford the opportunity to bring on that revolution and bring Iraq closer to Iran. And he is not the only Shi’a to think that might yet happen . Iraqi Prime Minister Allawi attended a meeting of Iraq’s neighbors to solicit support for the election. Guess who showed up to offer their help? Members of the Iranian government.

And as for France’s new found clarity on terrorists, those of us who look at the whole range of French actions find it remarkable that no one in Europe started screaming much when a member of the French government referred to the insurgents as “our closest foreign policy collaborators”--because it will embarrass the United States and strengthen a Gaullist Europe. French cynicism knows no bounds, of course, but it is worth remembering that the next time Mr. Gigot quotes his gay French friend.

::: posted by A Mind That Suits at 11:09 AM



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