Political Animal


THOUGHTS ABOUT THE WAR….My comment below (“If World War II didn’t stop the show from going on, then neither should Gulf War II.”) was dead serious. I’m not opposed to war in general, and I’m not even opposed to the aims of this war ? I just think it was executed so clumsily that it’s going to cause us far more trouble than it should have. But there are a lot of things about this war that bother me a lot.

I haven’t posted about this because I have trouble finding the right words to describe my reaction, but here are a few of the things that disturb me:

  • Treating the war per se as more serious than it is. No, it’s not Grenada, but it’s not World War II either ? or even Korea or Vietnam. But from the breathless tone of the round-the-clock news coverage you’d barely know it, and I think that in some sense this debases both past wars and current reporting. I mean, CNN just scrolled the news that Australian forces had captured an Iraqi tugboat. Do we really need to treat this as big news?

    This implicit debasement of the past is more important than it seems. I feel like I’m going to scream the next time I hear someone claiming that what we’re facing today is more complex and dangerous than the Cold War dangers our parents faced because, after all, there was just one big enemy back then instead of lots of little ones. But this is ridiculous. Nothing we’re facing today is even remotely comparable to the Cuban Missile Crisis, and no one today is seriously afraid of a nuclear exchange that could kill half the population of the country.

    This elevated sense of drama prevents people from learning from the past and encourages them to overreact to things in the present. It’s a potentially lethal combination.

  • Treating the aftermath of war as less serious than it is. The news channels are chockablock with trivial reports about individual advances or whether killing Saddam Hussein would violate the Geneva Convention, but virtually nothing about the post-war situation. It’s just too complex, and nobody really cares. Bad TV.

    But scholars have debated for decades how the history of the United States might have been different if Abraham Lincoln had lived and the postbellum policies of the United States government had been different. In the event, though, it all went wrong, and we’ve been paying the price for over a century. The same could easily happen in Iraq if we’re not sufficiently magnanimous in victory ? in the broadest possible sense ? or if we treat this as just the opening salvo in a war against the Middle East.

  • The increasing shrillness of the pro-war folks. I know, you’d hardly think it could get worse, and since they’ve finally gotten the war they’ve been campaigning for you’d think maybe they could calm down a bit and take the few remaining anti-war protests with a shrug of the shoulders. But no. Ted Barlow does a pretty good job of summing up their real-life reaction, and Digby pointedly reminds us that, peculiarly, Republicans “become enraged when they find that winning didn’t result in unconditional surrender by the political opposition.” The war party, unfortunately, will seemingly not be satisfied until both the UN and NATO are demolished, trade with France is prohibited by law, and the entire Middle East is under U.S. occupation. Unlike the few lonely “direct action” anti-war protesters in San Francisco, these aren’t fringe views, either, they are the opinions of national columnists, congressmen, defense analysts, and other pillars of the conservative community.

    Don’t believe it? Try reading this Weekly Standard piece.

  • The Philadephia Inquirer reports that before his Wednesday speech, Bush pumped his fist and said “Feels good.” Granted, not every president can be an Abraham Lincoln, but I really can’t imagine FDR or Truman or Eisenhower or even LBJ feeling that way about war either. (Maybe Nixon did, but that’s not a very complimentary comparison.) War may be necessary sometimes, but it’s not something that a president should ever “feel good” about.

Sorry, this went on longer than I intended, and I’m really not sure it expresses my feelings well in any case. Maybe later I’ll have something a bit more coherent to say, but for now this will have to do.


AND THE WINNER IS….Just in the nick of time, I have now seen all five of the Best Picture nominees. Last on the viewing list was The Pianist, which I found oddly flat and tedious for a subject that can evoke considerable emotion even when treated clumsily. Some of the early scenes, showing day-to-day Nazi treatment of Polish Jews on the street, were powerful and stomach clenching, but as a whole the film just didn’t work. Because it covers six full years, it is forced to provide mere snippets of action, and in the end they seem somehow disconnected from each other, ultimately failing to provide an emotional portrait, as opposed to a chronological one.

So which film gets my vote? Not Lord of the Rings Part 2, which I thought was not as good as Part 1, and not Gangs of New York, which was too melodramatic for my taste and which also (I thought) completely fell apart in the last half hour. I’ve already written that I liked The Hours, and I liked Chicago too, which successfully captured a tremendous sense of energy and bottled it for the screen.

It’s a tough choice between those two, but I think I’ll vote ? barely ? for The Hours. In the end, it seemed a bit more ambitious than Chicago and pulled off the very difficult trick of making a trio of depressed women seem genuinely sympathetic and interesting. So here’s the final order:

  1. The Hours

  2. Chicago

  3. Gangs of New York

  4. Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers

  5. The Pianist

After all that, I sure hope they don’t decide to cancel the awards just because we’re bombing Baghdad. The 1942 awards were held two days after all Japanese Americans on the West Coast were ordered to evacuate inland and just a few weeks before Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo and the Battle of Coral Sea. If World War II didn’t stop the show from going on, then neither should Gulf War II.

SHOCK AND AWE….And speaking of

SHOCK AND AWE….And speaking of Shock and Awe…..

The first time I heard about it the idea repulsed me, and it still does. But initial revulsion doesn’t prove that it’s the wrong thing to do, and if it shortens the war and reduces deaths overall ? well, then it’s the right thing to do. But will it?

I think the answer is likely yes. Admittedly, the use of bombing as a way of sapping an enemy’s will to fight (as opposed to its more conventional role in destroying infrastructure) has a pretty poor history: it sure didn’t work in Vietnam, and it probably didn’t work in World War II either. But despite enormous skepticism from people like me, it did work in Kosovo, thanks to enormous increases in both raw firepower and striking accuracy. And thanks to those advances, I have a feeling it’s going to work in Iraq too.

Of course, the long buildup to war, the 12 years of sanctions, and the psychological warfare of the past few months contribute too. Still, although my gut churns at the thought, it also tells me that as a strategy Shock and Awe is probably both sound and, in the end, humane. I have no doubt that the Pentagon is genuinely doing its best to avoid civilian deaths during this campaign, and if it persuades the Republican Guard to give up the fight sooner than they otherwise would, then it will have been a success.

But I can’t say that I’m happy about it.


AND LET’S KEEP THE GOWNS MODEST TOO, OK?….I spent the last few days with a friend (Grayson’s pet human) who is so disgusted with George Bush that he could hardly stand to have the TV news on. So despite his 60-inch-monster-cabled-10-speaker-surround-sound home theater system, which surely would have been just the ticket for watching Shock and Awe?, by the time I got home last night I knew that the war had started but not much else.

In particular, I was unaware that the traditional pre-show festivities had been cancelled by the organizers of the Academy Awards, allegedly because it would be a bit tacky for life to go on as usual while our troops are in harm’s way. Virginia Postrel has an alternate explanation:

The red carpet survived World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, not to mention September 11, but it can’t survive Iraq? I suspect a different motive: the commercial powers that be have wisely concluded that interview after interview with antiwar stars would turn off the American viewing public.

That sounds about right to me.