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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Mark Steyn: Adventures in Idiocy

By Anonymous Liberal


As the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate and public support for the war effort dwindles, the chief cheerleaders of the Iraq invasion are desperately looking for someone else to blame. Bill Kristol has already pointed his finger squarely at Donald Rumsfeld and has accused the Bush administration of not waging the war with sufficient "moral seriousness." GOP shills like Brit Hume, Fred Barnes, and Laura Ingraham are busy pointing their fingers at the media, accusing news organizations of poisoning public opinion with a constant barrage of bad news.

But the award for pure chutzpah has to go to Mark Steyn. His column in the Chicago Sun Times is so astoundingly dumb that it sets the new gold standard for conservative idiocy on Iraq (which is no small feat!).

Before I get to the heart of Steyn's argument, I want to take one paragraph from his column totally out of context (for reasons which will become apparent). Toward the middle of the column, Steyn writes:

To win a war, you don't spin a war. Millions of ordinary citizens are not going to stick with a "long war" (as the administration now calls it) if they feel they're being dissembled to about its nature. One reason we regard Churchill as a great man is that his speeches about the nature of the enemy don't require unspinning or detriangulating.

That sounds like something I might write. After all, this war has been "spun" from the very beginning. The American people were told that Saddam posed a grave and gathering threat; that he was in league with Al Qaeda and six months away from getting his hands on nuclear weapons. They were told the war would be quick and easy and would pay for itself. They've been treated to a string of premature declarations of victory and assured repeatedly that everything is going swimmingly when their own eyes tell them that it's not. It's no wonder they're a little disillusioned at this point.

Sadly, however, Steyn wasn't referring to any of these things I just mentioned. No, Steyn thinks the problem is that President Bush and Tony Blair have not made it sufficiently clear to the American and British people that this is really a war against Islam. Yes, you read that correctly. Steyn attributes the plummeting support for the Iraq War to, of all things, political correctness gone awry. He writes:

The line here is "respect." Everybody's busy professing their "respect": We all "respect" Islam; presidents and prime ministers and foreign ministers, lapsing so routinely into the deep-respect-for-the-religion-of-peace routine they forget that cumulatively it begins to sound less like "Let's roll!" and too often like "Let's roll over!"

Referring to a respectful statement about Islam by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Steyn writes:

At a basic level the foreign secretary's rhetoric does not match reality. Government leaders are essentially telling their citizens: Who ya gonna believe -- my platitudinous speechwriters or your lyin' eyes?

Steyn concludes his column with this:

My worry is that the official platitudes in this new war are the equivalent of the Cold War chit-chat in its 1970s detente phase --when Willy Brandt and Pierre Trudeau and Jimmy Carter pretended the enemy was not what it was. Then came Ronald Reagan: It wasn't just the evil-empire stuff, his jokes were on the money, too. In their own depraved way, the Islamists are a lot goofier than the commies and a few gags wouldn't come amiss. If this is a "long war," it needs a rhetoric that can go the
distance. And the present line fails that test.

For Steyn, the problem is simple: our rhetoric is not sufficiently inflammatory and jingoistic. The key to winning the war in Iraq and the overall war on terror is, apparently, to declare ourselves at war with Islam, and to make fun of Muslims.

Cluelessness of this magnitude is staggering to behold. Don't get me wrong, I'm a strong believer in free speech and will defend anyone's right to express an opinion, even an inflammatory one. But to suggest, as a normative proposition, that the way to win this war of ideas is to attack and ridicule Islam itself is pure insanity. That approach will do wonders for our effort to win over hearts and minds.

And it's even more ridiculous to suggest--as Steyn does--that the current dwindling support for the Iraq War is due to the overly-respectful way in which our leaders discuss Islam. Yeah, if only Bush would start framing this conflict as a holy war against Islam, everyone would suddenly be back onboard.

Does Steyn really think that the American people don't know the nature of the enemy we face, that they're unaware that the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were militant Islamists? That's ridiculous. If anything, one of the reasons people have soured on the war in Iraq is because an increasing number of them have realized that Saddam's regime had little, if anything, to do with the enemy that attacked us on 9/11 and that this ill-advised and disastrously-executed war appears to have made the situation infinitely worse.

Or perhaps people have grown a little disillusioned because columnists like Steyn told them things like this almost three years ago:

This war is over. The only question now is whether a new provisional government is installed before the BBC and The New York Times have finished running their exhaustive series on What Went Wrong with the Pentagon's Failed War Plan. . . .

[T]hese are the death throes: the regime was decapitated two weeks ago, and what we've witnessed is the last random thrashing of the snake's body. . . .

[F]or everyone other than media naysayers, it's the Anglo-Aussie-American side who are the geniuses. Rumsfeld's view that one shouldn't do it with once-a-decade force, but with a lighter, faster touch has been vindicated, with interesting implications for other members of the axis of evil and its reserve league.

You would think that someone who was so massively wrong about Iraq might be humbled by the experience and opt for a less condescending and cocksure tone when discussing the war. Not Steyn. His train of idiocy rolls onward, undetered. And remarkably, his influence among conservatives continues to grow. Steyn's Sunday column was quoted at length (and approvingly) by Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds who encouraged his readers to "[r]ead the whole thing, especially the last paragraph." Peter Robinson at The Corner also quotes the column at length, noting that "Mark Steyn is at his zestful, gorgeous, truthful best."

Sigh.

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