Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The Left Goes ’Round the Bend

I understand that the old "Bush is Hitler" line is nothing new, but now it’s found its way to the History News Network, not from some unknown commentator, but from a Swarthmore historian.

Actually, his argument is a bit more subtle than that--Bush is more like von Papen than Hitler, having prepared the groundwork for a fascist takeover. The evidence? An increasing amount of talk of using massive force--even nuclear weapons--in the War on Terror, and efforts to minimize (if not defend) the crimes at Abu Ghraib.

Don’t get me wrong--I have no time for those who are advocating turning the Middle East to glass, or who defend what happened at Abu Ghraib. But aren’t such attitudes an understandable (though not justifiable) response to the predictions of "quagmire" we’ve been hearing? Once we’ve established that the country is heading toward imminent defeat, we then ask ourselves what we should do about it. The answer of many on the Left is that we should cut and run. Should we be surprised that there are others who are equally convinced by the "quagmire" thesis, but who think that defeat must be avoided, no matter what the cost?

Perhaps such views--the "run away" school and the "nuke ’em all" school--have become standard tropes in modern warfare. However, it particularly bothers me to hear it coming from historians, who are supposed to be characterized by their appreciation for a long-term perspective.

Discussions - 18 Comments

So the brutality of folks like Limbaugh and Michael Savage is the fault of war critics "on the Left" (whatever the heck that means) who speak of a "quagmire"?

Seems to me that some people -- Limbaugh, Savage -- are just brutes with no moral bearings, and war gives them an opportunity to spread their brutishness, "Left" or no "Left."

I wouldn’t go so far as to call it "fault." Suffice it to say that the two have a symbiotic relationship, and that both have a tendency to overreact to short-term setbacks.

By the way, I’ve seen the Limbaugh quote, which I cannot and will not defend, but I’m curious as to how many of the Abu Ghraib photos he had really seen before making that unfortunate comment. I don’t always agree with Limbaugh, and do not listen to his show with any regularity, but I’ve always had the impression that he was in a different league from Michael Savage--who, from my experience, seems to fit Brett’s characterization as a "brute with no moral bearings."

I understand that the old "Bush is Hitler" line is nothing new, but now it’s found its way to the History News Network, not from some unknown commentator, but from a Swarthmore historian.

This reminds me of my claim that "Bush just might as well be Adolph Hitler to many Democrats," that I made back in April of 2003. A few liberals objected to my claim back then. But let’s face it, the only reason they don’t trumpet this belief from on high (though some actually do) is that they know most of America admires Bush. Which just makes ’em even madder.

Now, try and imagine what these folks are going to sound like when Bush wins in a landslide this November. Whew!

"they know most of America admires Bush..."

Tell me Mr. Lamb, did you bother looking at the President’s approval rating before making that comment?

Tell me Mr. Lamb, did you bother looking at the President’s approval rating before making that comment?

That’s a fair enough question. The answer is that I wasn’t thinking job approval at all, but rather Bush’s Personal Approval numbers. Clinton, for example, maintained high job numbers and very low personal numbers. Good leadership qualities require making tough decisions sometimes, that result in lower job numbers. Reagan dealt with low job numbers all through 1984, but still won in a landslide. Reagan, that year, maintianing a tough line on the Soviet threat (recall his "We’ve just outlawed the Soviet Union" comment, followed with the "bombing in five minutes"?). Bush, too, is leading and thus feeling some heat. But his personal approval remains high. And thus I think in the end he will prevail quite well.

Thanks for asking.

I’m confused. Many of the ratings on this page are in the crapper too. Which of these is supposed to be the personal approval rating?

They all are. The question, "What about George W. Bush? Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of him," is one not specifically tied to how well folks think he’s performing as president.

I would hardly, all things considered, chracterize them as "in the crapper," but to each his own. Based in experience with polling they look rather good to me.

Earlier I wrote: This reminds me of my claim that "Bush just might as well be Adolph Hitler to many Democrats," that I made back in April of 2003.

I had posted that claim in early April. On Monday, April 21, 2003, at OpinionJournal.com, James Taranto posted some interesting commentary from Harold Meyerson, who reguarly writes in the Washingon Post. Meyerson recently had wondered which past president Bush most closely resembles. He ran down a list: FDR, McKinley, Polk, Wilson, Truman? Taranto then quotes Meyerson:

"None of these presidents, great or awful, seems quite comparable to Bush the Younger. There is another, however, who comes to mind. He, too, had a relentlessly regional perspective, and a clear sense of estrangement from that part of America that did not support him. He was not much impressed with the claims of wage labor. His values were militaristic. He had dreams of building an empire at gunpoint. And he was willing to tear up the larger political order, which had worked reasonably well for about 60 years, to advance his factional cause. The American president--though not of the United States--whom George W. Bush most nearly resembles is the Confederacy’s Jefferson Davis. . . ."

Meyerson then, reasonable I might add, concludes:

"As with Davis, obtaining Bush’s defeat is an urgent matter of national security--and national honor."

I dare say...

Mr. Moser:

AS you know, I posted into that debate at Cliopatria. I’m interested in your reaction to this tendency on the part of some, in this case Professor Burke, to conflate those of us who advocate the use of more violent force with those (whoever they are) who want to exterminate all Muslims.

Is the idea that using more force now to show our resolve and end the war quicker so hard to understand? Why aren’t we debating the effectiveness of flattening a city like Fallujah, instead of dismissing the idea out of hand? I’m all for diplomacy and aid and all of that, but we are at war, and we only embolden our enemies when we unilaterally (ha!) and unthinkingly take legitimate uses of military power off the table.

John, I continue to be astonished that supporters of the war in Iraq are not profoundly disturbed that we have occupied Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers and become ourselves the torturers. Yesterday, we embraced Chalabi and celebrated his advice. Today, we raid his headquarters and his home. What the hell are we doing? Tim Burke’s point, which he expands on today at Easily Distracted, is that there is a long history of illusory impositions of democratic forms from above. We have embraced the rhetoric of doing that, but we will be fortunate if we can eventually withdraw from Iraq with a regime in place which is far short of it.

In the piece you reference, I’m really trying to think narrowly, much as the busy comments section suggests otherwise, about how to understand the phenomenon of some commentators on the populist right who strongly minimize or even justify Abu Ghraib, and possible evidence that they speak for a sizeable plurality of Americans in this regard. That’s the very specific and constrained context in which I propose the analogy to late Weimar.

What is one to do when some of your fellow citizens seem to have a morally reprehensible perspective on an absolutely fundamental question? You’ll note that many replies seek to minimize comments by Inhofe, Limbaugh, Derbyshire, Hanson and others as unimportant, fringe or "loony right" sentiments--rather parallel to the replies of many liberals to attacks on Chomsky, ANSWER and so on.

I’m concerned about that response, and it is what occasions my analogy to late Weimar, because this is exactly what the "respectable" German center--both left and right--said about the Nazis. They were regarded as fringe elements, lunatics, and unlikely to have their views implemented as policy even if by some unlikely event they became stronger politically--that they’d either moderate through a role in government, or be moderated forcefully by reasonable elements within the political order.

That turned out not to be true. Why are we so sure it’s true now, so certain that Limbaugh, the commentators at Little Green Footballs, Derbyshire, Lileks, Inhofe and others who excuse Abu Ghraib or begin to play with a much more exterminationist conception of the war, a "wipe them all out" sensibility, are fringe elements, unrepresentative of those prosecuting or supporting the war? What is our collective responsibility for such views--or the responsibility of those in particular who still support the war? Some supporters, like Tacitus, at least recognize a nominal responsibility to attack such sentiments as unacceptable, but many others seem to me to be circling the wagons. That seems at the least inconsistent with the more noble aims of the war articulated by the most principled supporters of it.

As for Tom’s question above, as to why we aren’t debating the effectiveness of "flattening" Fallujah, I would say that we ARE debating it. I would say that my piece on Cliopatria, and recent pieces on my own blog, are strong assertions about the effectiveness of such a strategy, that it flatly and utterly contradicts the aims of the war as articulated so far by most supporters and by the Bush Administration and opens the door to a war without end save an exterminationism.

Once you flatten Fallujah, won’t you have to flatten Sadr City? Won’t you have to flatten anywhere where Iraqis aren’t completely compliant with what we want them to be and do?

Tom, you’re reasonable and intelligent: can’t you see the contradiction between flattening cities for having within their boundaries insurgents fighting the US, for non-compliance with US wishes and defining compliance as achieving liberal democratic sovereignity?

How could the civilians of Fallujah "surrender" to the US so as to avoid being flattened? How could other communities do the same in the wake of said flattening?

What is the aim of this war if the war involves "flattening" cities of hundreds of thousands of people? Why are we there? What is it we hope to achieve? I ask these questions in some bewilderment when I’m asked why we can’t have a serious discussion of flattening whole cities, because I honestly feel I slept through an important part of the class. The last I heard, this was a humanitarian intervention designed to construct a liberal democratic state that would serve as a reliable platform for the spread of democracy. I can have a debate with that idea. I can even respect it, though I regard it as greviously flawed.

Although this may be kind of a bizarre place to have this discussion (since we all have our own weblogs, or two, or ten...), I’m glad we are having it. The humanitarian aspect was just one of many reasons the United States and the coalition invaded Iraq. Like my friend Derek Catsam, I think it is reason enough, and I am openly critical of our indifference under various administrations to step in and stop humanitarian abuses abroad. Still, no one, not even the president, has ever said this invasion was launched entirely for humanitarian reasons. Let’s be honest, despite the various conspiracy theories out there, the Bush administration never would have invaded Iraq without September 11 (or some other drastic event). We invaded Iraq because we believed it threatened our security--due to Sadaam’s unstable history, access to resources (oil) and thus money, and his acting as a state sponsor for terrorism (which meant he could and did give money and/or weapons of mass destruction to terrorists hostile to the U.S.). The fact that there are clear humanitarian issues to the invasion is a fortunate bonus. Don’t get me wrong, this is exactly where President Bush’s inability to communicate effectively forced him to reduce the causes of the invasion to "WMDs," then "Sadaam was bad." There is a difference between being a straight-shooter and losing precious details for the sake of simplicity, and for that I am an outspoken critic of the president.


All that said, this is still a war--not on terror, but on the radical fundamentalist Islam that spawns terrorists who attack the United States and its allies. It is not a war on all Islam--as if Islam was monolithic--but it is a war on more of Islam than we often admit. Like it or not, there are sizable portions of the civilian population of places like Iraq that are either on the fence or actively supporting the terrorists. Those are the people we need to convince that making war on the United States is a fatal mistake. Obviously I do not have the intelligence on the ground in Iraq, but from what I understand, much of the civilian population of Fallujah fled the city after the riots there in anticipation of the American counterattack. It seems to me those people already realize the folly of fighting us. They voted with their feet. As did those who stayed behind. We could have destroyed large sections of the city, and the terrorists and their supporters therein, and sent a message that we will not tolerate terrorist activity or its support from the larger population.


I know this sounds harsh, but I’m skeptical of the idea that all carrot and no stick is going to win over the hearts and minds of all the Iraqi people. And if enough of them resist or support resistance, than the noble goal of liberal democracy is perilously threatened. What is more, we will have failed to address the radical fundamentalist Islam that is at war with the United States and got us into the war in the first place. So they will continue to attack, and more Americans will die, maybe even tens or hundreds of thousands if the terrorists manage to use chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons. In the worse case scenario, we will be forced to kill people by the hundreds of thousands if not millions in return. But even if it is not that bad, we will have to continue to hunt down terrorists who will increasingly hide among supportive civilian populations, leading to more collateral damage and death.


All this when the destruction of one city might have shown just how serious we were about responding to terror, and scared the civilian populations away from supporting a suicidal ideology. Then the cowed formerly hostile population would be much more open to the ideas of liberal democracy. Germany and Japan at least partially prove that.

Simply put, you can’t win a war against an ideology or social movement by flattening cities. I happen to agree that there is a conflict with a particular form of radical fundamentalist Islam on the table. I radically disagree that Iraq was the right place to fight it--it wasn’t and isn’t--and I even more radically disagree that flattening cities or terrorizing civilian populations into rejecting the ideology we opose--because let’s be frank, that’s what you’re calling for, answering terror with terror--will be effective or useful as a strategy in this instance. Leave aside the morality of it for the moment: it will not work. It will do the opposite of what you intend. The analogy to Japan--a sovereign state whose sovereigns could surrender after the dropping of the bomb, who were engaged in a total mobilization of their populations behind a totalizing war--is wildly off. Whatever you think of my late Weimar comparison, that comparison is vastly less useful. There’s no one to surrender in this case. There’s no sovereign to sign the treaty, no representative, no one to say, "That’s it, we’re done, you win."

You win a struggle against an ideology in bits and pieces, through resolute defense, through having a better ideology that wins people to your side, through a demonstration of the values and beliefs you hold dear. If you can’t win it that way, then there’s no empirical proof of the superiority of your own values anyway. In which case, this becomes a purely nationalist and non-universalist struggle--and even on those grounds, this is a defective war. It’s lousy as realpolitik, it’s lousy as the proection of national security, it’s lousy as a humanitarian intervention, it’s lousy as a front in the war on terror. Wrong place, wrong moment, wrong strategy, a war that leaves us markedly less secure, markedly less successful in the war of ideas against radical fundamentalist Islam.

There’s nothing left except to say we were mad and angry and hurting after 9/11 and by gum, somebody was going to have to get a bloody nose, and Afghanistan wasn’t good enough. Even on that purely reactive, punch-drunk level, I can think of some better targets, assuming I thought it was a good idea to make war because just because dadgummit we’re pissed off. Which I don’t.

The rationale by the administration for the war has changed(out of necessity) several times during the last year. But currently the humanitarian justification seems to be the most prevalent. All over this web site, for example, you see people saying we are in Iraq because the old regime was brutal and so we had to change the regime. By this reasoning then, why shouldn’t we be preparing to invade the Sudan next? Or Uzbekistan? Or better still, start closer to home with Cuba? Are we hypocritical to only offer some mild "concern" to what Israel is now doing in Gaza? Or do we pick and choose when to tolerate repressive regimes?

Mr. Gordon, do you think it’s good as a general rule to give to charities? If so, do you give to every one of them that exists, or only to one or two? Assuming it’s the latter, does that make you a hypocrite?

in response to marc s lamb i dont know what poll he has been looking at but he better get more informed as a loyal republican i admired ronald reagen very much but bush and the current congress that does not have the balls to do thew right thing just go along with the white house even when they blow it i think your in for a big let down in nov.

Hey Death’s Jester, is this comment 18 someone pretending to be on the right? It sure sounds like someone following your recipe for an "instant conservative."

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