Thursday, April 08, 2010

More on the don't-criticize-the-military meme

Stephen Walt has a good commentary on the 2007 video of the incident in which American forces killed two Reuters reporters and other civilians, and the issues around it: On that viral video from Baghdad Foreign Policy 04/07/10. Like most of the other commentary on this video I've seen, he observes that it's not at all clear that the soldiers themselves indulged in any kind of misconduct in this situation. (The report of the murder of civilians in Gardez province in Afghanistan that has also been discussed in the press quite a bit this week is another matter.) The real significance is that its a reminder that war isn't a sports event or infotainment for us to enjoy on television, although the ugly truth of it is that many Americans look at war in those ways. Walt makes the point that the public needs to realize that our wars can create problems for the United States even when the military is doing things right:

... one of the fundamental problems for a country with an interventionist foreign policy is that it frequently does things that others don't like and sometimes resist. If U.S. citizens do not know what their own government is doing, however, they won't understand exactly where that hostility is coming from. Instead of recognizing it as a reaction to their own policies, they will tend to assume that foreign opposition is irrational, a reflection of deep ideological antipathies, or based on some sort of weird hostility to our "values." Believing ourselves to be blameless, and motivated only by noble aims, we will misread the sources of anti-Americanism and overlook opportunities to reduce it by adjusting our own behavior.

It is therefore vital for American citizens to know about the various things that are being done in the name of our national security. We need to know about drone strikes, targeted assassinations, civilians killed by mistake, support for corrupt or vicious warlords, "covert" actions against foreign regimes, etc., as well as similar activities undertaken by allies with whom we are closely identified. Whether those various policies are still justifiable and/or effective is a separate issue (i.e., the benefits may be worth the price of greater hostility, though I am personally skeptical) but at least we won't be surprised when those who have experienced the sharp end of American power are angry at us, and we won't be as likely to misinterpret it. [my emphasis]
Keith Olbermann talked about the incident on his newscast Wednesday. But check out this nearly 24-minute report from Al Jazeera, which gives a serious airing of the issues raised by the video, a very different kind of presentation than we normally see on American news programs.


One point of view that is not included is the head-in-the-sand, don't-ever-criticize-our-soldiers-for-anything (unless they say something disagreeing with Republican politicians!) viewpoint. Oliver Willis was back with more childish whining along those lines, in a post worth seeing only for its silliness, though he obviously did mean it to be silly, Still Work To Be Done 04/07/10. Here is targets are people who left comments on his earlier post taking the same silly posture, though he doesn't point us to any particular ones of his commenters, either. But if his goal is to sound like a blustering Young Republican, he succeeds pretty well:

The idea that good young American men and women join the military and perform honorable duty is cast aside for the idea that they’re a bunch of Xbox adrenaline junkies who get a thrill from killing ethnic minorities in the name of American conquest.

Such thoughts repulse me, and it saddens me that they have any currency on the left, let alone a small but vocal group of backers. As is the case with wingnuts, you aren’t entitled to your own facts. I’m just some guy with a blog, but when someone unfairly attacks the military or traffics in b.s. against them, I’ll be as quick to talk about it as when the military requires criticism, condemnation, and demands for change.
I haven't read through all the comments to that previous post, which I also discussed yesterday here. But browsing through the first few dozen, I didn't see any that looked to me like they fit the caricature that Willis is addressing in the later post. One of his respondents is Glenn Greenwald, who writes (emphasis in original):

Let me say this as politely as I can: this is a total lie.

I do not believe soldiers kill for the heck of it. I believe only a tiny minority purposely kill civilians.

I said this was not an aberration because (a) it has happened so often (how do you think the 100,000 Iraqi civilians – at least – got dead?); (b) The Pentagon itself said that what these soldiers did was completely consistent with their policies and practices (they must hate the troops, too); and (c) people who actually know what they’re talking about – who have spent years covering our wars — say that this happens frequently.

You completely lied about what I wrote and believe in this post.

I explicitly said that this video is NOT an indictment of the soldiers involved, because they’re doing what Pentagon policy calls for — as the Pentagon itself concluded.


What this is the standard Krstol/Cheney McCarthyite smear: anyone who criticizes military policy HATES THE TROOPS.

At least they don’t usually lie about what people have actually written in order to carry out that smear, as you’ve done here.
Willis' own response to Greenwald and others in the comment thread on that post are pretty churlish. It's particularly notable that Willis says he opposed the Iraq War, but defends its legality. When a commenter point out accurately that the Congressional authorization of October 2002 "was conditional, with conditions that were quite obviously never met," Willis seems oblivious to the point and replies with a sneer, "Then war is never legal. Cue the ponies and rainbows."

See here and here for earlier posts of mine on the war resolution.

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