The warmongers’ insatiable desire for violence

The dirty little (but open) secret is that people like Jonah Goldberg never really cared for all the finer points of the case for or against war, all the geopolitical calculations. They wanted blood and revenge for the attacks of 9/11 and the people of Iraq and Afghanistan were merely the most convenient targets for their bloodlust. In a macabre way we are fortunate, despite the barbarism of his views, to have people like Goldberg because he moves around in the circles of influential opinion makers, and he often reveals what they say in limited circles and might prefer not to have repeated to a broader public. He is like a child who blurts out to visitors the unflattering things his parents said about them just before their arrival, causing red-faced embarrassment all around.

Here is what Goldberg said right after the invasion of Afghanistan.

In the weeks prior to the war to liberate Afghanistan, a good friend of mine would ask me almost every day, “Why aren’t we killing people yet?” And I never had a good answer for him. Because one of the most important and vital things the United States could do after 9/11 was to kill people. Call it a “forceful response,” “decisive action” – whatever. Those are all nice euphemisms for killing people. And the world is a better place because America saw the necessity of putting steel beneath the velvet of those euphemisms.

So the war was to simply kill people, any people, in order to satiate the desire for revenge of him and his friends. But his statement, as horrific as he sounds, is not the worst thing he has said about what the circles he moves in really feels. For them, the Afghan war, especially in its initial stages, was too easy and did not produce enough blood to satisfy them. So they moved on to Iraq, where in urging the invasion of Iraq, Goldberg gave this novel justification, invoking another influential neoconservative warmonger Michael Ledeen:


So how does all this, or the humble attempt at a history lesson of my last column, justify tearing down the Baghdad regime? Well, I’ve long been an admirer of, if not a full-fledged subscriber to, what I call the “Ledeen Doctrine.” I’m not sure my friend Michael Ledeen will thank me for ascribing authorship to him and he may have only been semi-serious when he crafted it, but here is the bedrock tenet of the Ledeen Doctrine in more or less his own words: “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” That’s at least how I remember Michael phrasing it at a speech at the American Enterprise Institute about a decade ago (Ledeen is one of the most entertaining public speakers I’ve ever heard, by the way).

So we should attack Iraq because we need to periodically kick some small country in the teeth, just because we can, and to show the world “we mean business”. If that results in more than a half million Iraqis dead, well, that’s the price of hard-headed realism.

But Goldberg thinks that Michael Ledeen’s barbaric ideas must be taken seriously. After all, we are assured that Ledeen is an entertaining speaker. Michael Ledeen, by the way, is described as a “scholar” at the American Enterprise Institute (a warmongering “think tank”) and has been one of the leading advocates of the US initiating regime changes in one Middle East country after the next. In an interview on Fresh Air Ledeen makes the extraordinary claim to interviewer Terry Gross that Iran has been attacking the US for 27 years! Justin Raimondo analyzes Ledeen’s contribution to the warmongering efforts among the pundit class.

This is what passes for serious thinking among these people. But while Goldberg now says the war in Iraq was wrong, he quickly adds that “I must confess that one of the things that made me reluctant to conclude that the Iraq war was a mistake was my general distaste for the shabbiness of the arguments on the antiwar side.”

What does it say about a person who hesitates to say he is wrong about such a major issue because of his “distaste” for his opponents? Furthermore, to be lectured to on the “shabbiness” of the antiwar arguments by someone like Goldberg who has advanced the most cruel and bloody and shallow arguments that he has for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, is like being lectured on the proper treatment of prisoners by Dick Cheney.

But Goldberg and Ledeen, as I said, are not alone in this kind of barbaric thinking. Max Boot, then editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal was disappointed in the early days of the Afghanistan war because, like Goldberg, it did not produce enough blood to satisfy him. He criticized the fact that it was primarily an air war and did not produce enough casualties on the American side! Writing on November 14, 2001 when the Taliban government had just abandoned Kabul because of American air strikes, he said:

It may seem churlish in this hour of victory to raise doubts about how the triumphs of the past few days have been achieved, but the manner in which we have fought the war in Afghanistan may yet come back to haunt us.

This is not a war being won with American blood and guts. It is being won with the blood and guts of the Northern Alliance, helped by copious quantities of American ordnance and a handful of American advisers. After Sept. 11, President Bush promised that this would not be another bloodless, push-button war, but that is precisely what it has been.

Boot seems genuinely disappointed by Bush not carrying through on his promise that the war would not be bloodless. He bemoans the lack of US casualties and worries that “the longer term danger is that the war in Afghanistan will do nothing to dispel the widespread impression that Americans are fat, indolent, and unwilling to fight the barbarians on their own terms.” He is concerned that “Our bombing campaign reveals great technical and logistical prowess, but it does not show that we have the determination to stick a bayonet in the guts of our enemy.” He thinks that to dispel this image of Americans being ‘soft’, US soldiers must be willing to kill and be killed in close-up combat in order to convince the world that the US can take serious casualties.

I am always amazed at the ease with which some people can long for the deaths of other people. Apart from the Goldberg-like fascination with bloody imagery, I always wonder what such people mean when they say “we” in such contexts. To me it reinforces the idea that these chickenhawk pundits like Boot and Ledeen and Goldberg really do imagine themselves as warriors, and they like to imagine themselves fighting alongside the soldiers, and vicariously enjoying sticking bayonets into people and watching blood and gore spill out. All this macho posturing (like the use of the gratuitously violent imagery “stick a bayonet in the guts”) while staying safely out of danger must stem from some serious insecurities in their psyche.

But Boot foresaw a possible bright side. Perhaps the Taliban would not give up so easily and that could produce more blood and US casualties. He goes on:

It is still not too late to dispel the illusion of American weakness; in fact, we may have no choice in the weeks ahead. The Taliban, still shielding Osama bin Laden, remain holed up in southern Afghanistan, a land where the Northern Alliance is unlikely to venture.
. . .
Of course the Taliban in the south may complete their collapse within a matter of days. But if they do not, U.S. forces may still have to go cave-to-cave, as U.S. Marines once went cave-to-cave on Tarawa, Saipan and Okinawa, incinerating the enemy in their redoubts.

He ends on a remarkably disingenuous note, saying “It is not a pleasant thing to contemplate more battles, greater bloodshed” when it is clear that this is exactly what he desires.

Now that the situation in Afghanistan is unraveling, the Taliban is resurgent, and the US and coalition forces actually have been forced to go cave-to-cave and are incurring serious casualties (350 US troop deaths and 150 from the other NATO nations so far), not to mention the huge numbers of Afghans who have also died, Boot may have got his wish.

William Kristol is another person in March 2003 who thought that Americans should stop being such wimps and should be ready to have lots of people die to show their toughness, as long as it is not him and his friends who actually risk death, of course.

“I think the American people are going to have great tolerance for the war taking longer, and they are going to have great tolerance for more casualties,” said William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard. “The American people don’t have tolerance for defeat or equivocation.”

Kristol said he did not welcome a tougher fight, but, he said, “in a certain way, the willingness to stick it out would be as impressive as” a quick victory, because such toughness would dispute the “core [Osama] bin Laden claim that America is a weak horse,” that after suffering 19 casualties in Somalia, “they fled.”

Similarly, that “entertaining speaker” Michael Ledeen also displayed insouciance about casualties as long as he is not the one at any risk. He makes the extraordinary claim that Americans as a whole actually love war, projecting on other people his own bloodlust.

I think the level of casualties is secondary. I mean, it may sound like an odd thing to say, but all the great scholars who have studied American character have come to the conclusion that we are a warlike people and that we love war. . . . What we hate is not casualties but losing. And if the war goes well and if the American public has the conviction that we’re being well-led and that our people are fighting well and that we’re winning, I don’t think casualties are going to be the issue.

The arguments for invading Iraq are being increasingly revealed to be beneath contempt and even coming from people like Henry Kissinger, whom I had hoped had disappeared from the public scene. It turns out that this Vietnam-era war criminal has been a regular confidante of Bush and Cheney, peddling once again his patented violent solutions. Scott Horton, writes in the Antiwar blog:

Along the lines of Justin Raimondo’s article about Jonah Goldberg and the Ledeen Doctrine, one of the most sickening yet, as far as I can tell, unremarked upon bits of hearsay in Bob Woodward’s new book, State of Denial, is about the bloodlust of Henry Kissinger, apparently as relayed to Woodward by former Bush speechwriter Mike Gerson. From page 408:

“Why did you support the Iraq war?” Gerson asked him.

“Because Afghanistan wasn’t enough,” Kissinger answered. In the conflict with radical Islam, he said, they want to humiliate us. “And we need to humiliate them.”

(Bob Woodward has made a career out of being the “court stenographer”, carefully reflecting the views of the people in power and being very deferential to them in order to gain access. The fact that his latest book reveals all the dissension in the administration says that there is realization within the administration that the Iraq war has simply fallen apart.)

So all these “serious” people say that we should invade a country and kill people in the Middle East just because we can, to prove to the world that we are tough, and to humiliate them. And when these actions produce violent reactions, these very same people turn around with hurt and puzzled looks and ask “Why do they hate us?”


POST SCRIPT: Great moments in presidential oratory

For a little bit of humor, see here.

Rewriting the history about the Iraq war – the pundits keep trying

The pro-war agitators other attempt at rewriting history is to say that the people who opposed the war were partisan simpletons who were against anything that Bush did, while supporting the wars that Democrats started. This is blatantly false as editorial director Justin Raimondo has repeatedly pointed out.

Raimondo delivers a blistering dissection of the phony apologias of these once cock-a-hoop warmongers, such as that they were right to support the war but that they were let down by the incompetence in executing it. They now call for more troops, firing Donald Rumsfeld, or other tactical changes, without conceding that the invasion of Iraq was a massive strategic blunder and that the current debacle followed inexorably from it.

In the veritable tsunami of recantations and recriminations pouring out of former supporters of the war, from Francis Fukuyama to various Republican members of Congress, there is one constant theme: Don’t blame us! Who knew that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction? No one could have known about the rise of the insurgency. Nobody told us!

The only proper answer to this is: Poppycock!
. . .
America’s looming defeat in Iraq was easily predictable: after all, the British, the Turks, the Ottomans, and, further back, the Romans, the Persians, the Mongols, and the Macedonians under Alexander the Great had all been driven out of Mesopotamia, some quicker than others. Why did anyone think the Americans would be the exception?
. . .
If only we knew then what we know now” – that’s the mantra we’re hearing from the excuse-makers, Democrats as well as Republicans and repentant neocons, now that the truth about this rotten war is out there in the open, plain enough for even the willfully blind to see. Well, I’m not buying it. There were plenty of indications that the “intelligence” cooked up by the neocons was faked, but nobody in Washington wanted to hear it.

Raimondo takes to task warmonger Andrew Sullivan who, like Jonah Goldberg and Francis Fukuyama, has now come to the same realization that his prior support for Iraq war was a mistake, not because it was the wrong thing to do in principle, but because he misjudged the competence of the Bush administration in implementing it.

Sullivan’s appeal to the “incompetence” angle shows that there is no shame, no real remorse, for having led us all down the garden path: according to his lights, he was right, in principle – it was only in the execution that the administration got it all wrong. Instead of regretting that we ever sent our troops into the Iraqi maelstrom, Andrew opines that we sent too few.

The fact is that many who opposed the war made a much more fundamental claim, that a “preventive war” was illegal and immoral, that Iraq had neither attacked nor threatened to attack the US, and thus there was no grounds for attacking it.

The fact also remains that many of the reasons for invading Iraq were base and shameful and the current attempts at rewriting history should be exposed. Take for example, another example from war enthusiast Jonah Goldberg. He wrote recently: “The failure to find weapons of mass destruction is a side issue. The WMD fiasco was a global intelligence failure, but calling Saddam Hussein’s bluff after 9/11 was the right thing to do.”

Really? WMDs were a side issue? Who would have guessed? Where was he during all of 2002 and 2003 when that was constantly given as the rationale for the war, in press conference after press conference, and then echoed in talk show after talk show? What about all the images of mushroom clouds billowing all over the world? And what exactly was Saddam Hussein’s ‘bluff’ that Goldberg is referring to? He doesn’t say. Does he think war is like a card game? Does he think the 600,000 Iraqi lives lost in this war are just so many poker chips?

Goldberg then goes on to further castigate the antiwar activists for their supposed naivete:

Those who say that it’s not the central front in the war on terror are in a worse state of denial than they think Bush is in. Of course it’s the central front in the war on terror. That it has become so is a valid criticism of Bush, but it’s also strong reason for seeing our Iraqi intervention through. If we pull out precipitously, jihadism will open a franchise in Iraq and gain steam around the world, and the U.S. will be weakened. (my emphasis)

His statement that “If we pull out precipitously, jihadism will open a franchise in Iraq and gain steam around the world, and the U.S. will be weakened” is another one of those sweeping generalizations which are pure fancy with no empirical basis. When the British withdrew from India, did the Indians start marauding the streets of London? When the US withdrew from Vietnam and Lebanon, did the people of those countries roam around the world, wreaking havoc? When the people of Afghanistan drove out the Soviet Union, did they follow them to Moscow? As is usually the case, when an occupying force has been driven out, the people of those countries go back about their own business.

Goldberg gives merely a casual acknowledgment to the fact that thanks to this unnecessary war, the Iraqi people are dying in their hundreds of thousands, and are now the victims of their country becoming a magnet for violent extremists and a battlefield for warring factions that he himself acknowledges was never the case before. He seems to think its quite ok for the US to have made Iraq a “central front in the war on terror.” Who cares what tragedy it has created for the Iraqi people? For these ‘hardheaded political realists’ with their grand geopolitical calculations, it does not matter if hundreds of thousands of people are killed and the remainder live in constant terror because of the violence and instability that has been unleashed by their actions.

As long as the deaths happen elsewhere to people they don’t know, they can sleep well at night, blissfully dreaming of future wars that they can advocate.