Monday, March 24, 2003

A Conservative Reproach to Wilsonian Dreams

Several close friends of mine oppose this war. They do so for a variety of reasons--socialist, Mormon/Christian-pacifist, national-interest-related, and so forth. I take all of their criticisms to heart, because they're my friends and I respect them, but also because I'm not so utterly convinced of my model of the world that I'm untouched by those whose commitments (many of which I share) lead them to a different model. One man, a fellow who works at a prominent conservative magazine and a sharp political thinker and writer, recently shared his "night thoughts" with some of us. With his permission, I'm (anonymously) placing his comments here.

"As you know, I have been consistently, if mildly, opposed to the prospect of war with Iraq since at least the fall. And nothing I've seen since it began has convinced me I was wrong to oppose it. Above all, I've been disgusted by what might be called the battle posture of our country. The chest-thumping, preening, bragging, muscle-flexing, repeated invocations of "shock and awe" on the part of our supposedly liberal media -- all of it sickens me. I was in NYC on 9/11 -- the first plane flew directly over my head on its way to the World Trade Center -- and I feel nothing but crushing sadness at seeing our missiles do far more damage to Baghdad -- which had NOTHING TO DO WITH 9/11 -- in our name. Outside of NYC and, to a lesser extent, Washington, Americans have no fucking idea what it's like to be bombed -- as you can clearly see from the media coverage of the destruction, which treats it like some Bruce Willis action flick, as well as early polls showing that the country is excited by what they're seeing. I wish Americans could step out of themselves for only a moment to imagine the horror of living in a world in which one country is so powerful that it can lob hundreds of remote-controlled rockets into the center of your capital and destroy your skyline with impunity from 1,000 miles away. We are a behemoth utterly unaware of what it's like to live at the mercy of a behemoth.

"I am also filled with foreboding at what awaits us over the coming weeks and months. America is incredible when it comes to air power. But we have very little recent experience with ground warfare -- especially when it comes to an invasion (as opposed to the comparatively much easier task of pushing Iraqi troops out of Kuwait 12 years ago). The first few days went well because (1) we used safe-distance technology to blow up a bunch of buildings and (2) our invading troops have BYPASSED THE CITIES! We're just cruising through open desert for Baghdad, hoping against hope that if we can take the city (big IF), the rest will follow. Yet the Iraqis have so far not greeted our troops as "liberators" (the question of why they haven't goes to the heart of why I opposed this war in the first place, but I'll leave that aside for now). And they need not possess or use WMDs to do a tremendous amount of damage to our troops on the ground in hand-to-hand combat, as we saw yesterday -- even as their pathetic weaponry so far shows that they are, in geopolitical terms, a weakling state being pummeled by a gargantuan. Then there's the northern front, which pretty much doesn't exist, because of Turkey. I'm glad we refused to pay the ultimate price (permission to crush the Kurds) for use of their territory as a launching pad. The result is that we have a very difficult task ahead of us in the north, where many thousands of troops are waiting for us.

"All of which points to my central concern: our whole damn country, including, and especially the president, seems to be convinced that America is all-good -- and that everything that's good triumphs in the world (e.g., the Iraqis will greet our invading troops with smiles and a thank you). This is all so naive, I hardly know how to respond. We're surprised that they blow grenades rather than kisses at our troops? Just as we were surprised that Turkey was a problem? Who are the people in charge -- and haven't they ever read a book? As a professor of mine has said about the administration's plans, it is folly. As Dreyfuss also recognizes in the piece from the American Prospect that [another mutual friend] shared this morning. The only problem with the article, in my view, is that the neocons don't want to spread monarchy around the world. Saying so just makes the left feel better. After all, if they are trying to spread DEMOCRACY around the world -- which they are -- then the question of why a lefty should reject their ambitions becomes trickier. But that tricky question is what needs to be answered. The neocons want an endless series of "small" wars to remake the world in America's image. Doing so will be good for America (both abroad and, more ominously, at home (i.e., war leads to virtuous citizens)) and good for the world. In other words, all good things go together -- which is, for me, the most delusional conceit anyone can live by. That people who view the world this way have risen to such power is extremely dangerous -- as I fear we're all going to learn over the coming weeks and months."

The fact that this a conservative voice, a socially conservative voice that I know and trust, is a powerful challenge to me. No, he's not a liberal mole; and no, he's not someone tempted by isolationism and (what I consider to be) Buchanan's thoroughly discredited paleo-right; if anything, he's closer to people and causes that those kind of "conservatives" consider a betrayal of the Republican party than anyone I'll probably ever know. He's just an honest, religious man who fears that, in taking on a larger than necessary project, American will reap an ever-larger and ever-more uncontrollable whirlwind, one which will harm our soldiers and damage our civic soul. In the end, his fears are not all that different from those shared by many people I know. One of my wife's dearest friends, whose husband is far away in Australia presently, writes to my wife from her Washington D.C. area apartment that she is terrified about the consequences of what Bush is doing. "But what does he care?" she asks morbidly; "he has his own security detail."

Now, one may say that this whirlwind was coming whether we liked it or not, and that we had no choice but to grab on early, grab on big, and ride it through. Moreover, one might say that we ought to be grateful that we can and do have the time and opportunity to press for a liberal, anti-imperialist, humble "riding" of this whirlwind--indeed, I suppose that is in essence what I have been saying for the last several days. But that should provide no relief from those voices, conservative or otherwise, which properly insist on reminding us of the terrible harm whirlwinds always, always do.