Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Surge godfather speaks

Fred Kagan of Neocon Central, better known as the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), is credited with being one of the main intellectual godfather's of McCain's Iraq escalation project, The Surge. He's just issued a new, lenghty manifesto about why the antiwar movement is evil and in league with Hell: Why Iraq Matters: Talking back to antiwar-party talking points National Review Online 04/07/08.

The greatest specialty of the neocons is their talent for invective. I don't call them "Trotskyists" as some of the Old Right isolationist types do. But 1930s Troskyism and the hair-splitting sectarian disputes that went with it is part of the bedrock intellectual foundation of neoconservatism. The more orthodox Marxists may have had a point even in the 1930s when it accused Troskyism of being reactionary ideology in Marxist disguise. But I won't go there in this post.

In Kagan's first three paragraphs, he set the stage with favorite Republican and neocon images of scorn and "truisms" of dubious historical foundation. Like: War opponents are "hyper-sophisticates" (unlike down-home good ole boys like Fred Kagan and William Kristol); the wicked left forced the US to "lose" the Vietnam War; these hyper-sophisticates have offered their devious arguments "during every major conflict" the US has had (meaning that some of us war critics possess a remarkable longetivity); the "American foreign-policy and intellectual establishment" opposes the Iraq War (standard posturing for rightwingers who like to imagine themselves as bold rebels against "political correctness" but not entirely wrong in this case as the Iraq Study Group report in 2006 showed); winning and losing are clear-cut alternatives in the Iraq War; if war critics aren't totally confident they can predict what the Middle East will look like 50 years from now we should just shut the hell up; the war critics are so devious and slippery that they change their criticisms when conditions change during the course of this particular Long War; war opponents are gleeful when the Bad People kill the Good People; and, of course, we war opponents are all trembling Neville Chamberlains who refuse the higher wisdom of Churchillian leaders like Fred Kagan.

If these sound like debating points, they are.

And that's a big problem with an awful lot of neocon writing on foreign policy. It's long on polemics, short on analysis - and often not very scrupulous about facts.

One thing I see in Freddie's debating points is that he's nervous about war opponents emphasizing the swelling cost of the neocon's merry little adventure in Mesopotamia. Military spending is a much lower percentage of the GDP and the federal budget than it once was, both of which I think are true though I would never assume Freddie's statistics in a polemic like this were reliable.

He makes a point that's remarkable for its ditsiness: The US presence in the Middle East doesn't cause oil supplies to go up. Because it's conflict and instability in the Middle East that cause oil prices to go up. Therefore our war in Iraq has nothing to do with it! I should be fair, though, and assume that Freddie has only been listening to people who say that the physical presence of human being with American passports in Iraq is what's causing oil prices to rise. It somehow may not have registered with him that war critics are usually referring to the war that the Cheney-Bush administration initiated in Iraq as what is affecting oil prices.

All that hippie stuff of worrying about what other things might be done with the money actually being spent on the war is incomprehensible to Freddie. If there weren't a war we would have to spend all that money on other military stuff. Why, he says, "the Air Force is just about at the bake-sell level [i.e., needing to hold bake sales to raise money] thanks to consistent underspending on defense since 1991". Wow! Who knew? We sure wouldn't want Al Qa'ida high-tech air force attacking us tomorrow, would we?

That brings us up to page 4 of 9, and suddently I feel a severe attack of narcolepsy coming on. Or maybe it's just mega-boredom. After that it descends into setting up straw-man talking points and knocking them brilliantly down.

You know, with all that has been said and written about the Iraq War, you would think that Freddie could have found some actual war opponents to quote on their points. But I only caught one passing reference to one of Barack Obama's criticisms in this nine-page diatribe. Gee, with 60% or so of the public saying they want to US out of Iraq, you would think he could have gotten a few actual arguments from actual war opponents. Shoot, he could have just picked people randomly on the street of any city and found some.

But it is a marvel to behold how neocons can instantly change the subject to the Second World War and make some goofy analogy to support their argument of the moment. It may not make jack for sense. But somehow it lets us imagine we're fighting the Good War, not a nasty, hopeless little colonial-type war in Iraq.

What's even more impressive, in a shake-your-head-in-amazement kind of way, is how Freddie views everything that happens in Iraq as a victory for Our Side. It's all good for Freddie.


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"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
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