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.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The "Last Throes" of the Pro-War Right

By Anonymous Liberal


Events in Iraq have reduced what's left of the pro-war Right to a state of almost total incoherence. Tony Blankley's latest trainwreck of a column illustrates this phenomenon perfectly. It's worth a read if only to see what happens when partisans run out of approved talking points and are forced to improvise.

Referring to the recent media coverage of the alleged crimes committed by U.S. soldiers at Haditha, Blankley writes:

The "Drive By Media" (Rush Limbaugh's scientifically
accurate description) has already started to report
this story in a manner that is likely to do vast damage
that may last for several years to the morale (and
possibly recruitment) of our military. It will create a
propaganda catastrophe of strategic proportions in
our mortal struggle with radical Islam and its
terrorist spear point.

And all this is being done by journalists who are
seemingly oblivious to the consequences of their acts.

President Bush noted the extraordinary damage
that reported events at Abu Ghraib caused and
continue to cause. One can only imagine what the
radical Islamist propagandists and recruiters will do
with the Haditha incident -- especially since they
will merely have to accurately quote from major
United States and European newspapers and
television news broadcasts. Is this any way to
fight a war?
Blankley's point here, though misguided, is pretty clear: the media, by reporting what happened at Haditha, is causing lasting damage to America's image abroad and making it easier for terrorists to enlist new recruits. This makes winning the war harder. This argument is entirely ass backwards, of course, but I'll get to that in a minute. In the very next paragraph, Blankley shifts gears:

It is particularly commendable of our American
troops that they willingly go into battle under such
restrictive rules of engagement that they are
required to constantly risk their own lives in order
not to offend civilians/terrorists(?) until they are
almost sure they are really combatants.

No other military force in history has been so
tightly limited in its defensive actions. And
probably no other military force has been
sufficiently disciplined to maintain such
restrictive rules in the heat of combat. God bless
our troops -- if not necessarily the policy that so
restricts them.
Did you catch that last part? Blankley is implying that our policy of trying to discriminate between civilians and terrorists is too restrictive, that he'd prefer a policy where troops hands are less tied, where they're free to shoot first and ask questions later. Nevermind that such a policy, if actually embraced, would be infinitely more damaging to our interests than the press coverage of Haditha.

Blankley's remark reminded me of the insane op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last month by Shelby Steele. After rereading that piece, I was struck by the parallels between the policy Steele advocated in his column and what appears to have happened at Haditha. Steele wrote:

But compassionate conservatism, whatever you
think of the concept domestically, clearly shouldn't
extend to war, and there are times when the
international equivalent of Sherman's march
through the South would, in the long run, save
American soldier's lives and foreshorten the conflict.

Which is why there are times when we really should
turn off the "smart" bombs and show our seriousness
by putting the world on notice that, when we believe
the situation calls for it, we are willing to ignore the
inevitable bad press and the howls of protest from
human rights groups, and exhibit a show of strength
and military professionalism that is politically
disinterested and tactically thorough and lethal.

Of course, no one wishes to see innocent civilians die
(only the unserious make the claim that those who
support what they consider to be a necessary war
somehow luxuriate in collateral deaths). But at the
same time, from a practical standpoint, there is
nothing wrong with fighting a war as if it is a war--
and sometimes the only way to disabuse the enemy
of the notion that we are constrained by a moral
calculus that makes little sense in urban combat
situations is to refuse to show the kind of restraint
they have come to anticipate and count on.

Well, I'm pretty sure the people of Haditha have been "disabused" of that notion. Now they know just how "serious" we are. Mission accomplished, right Shelby? Needless to say, the indiscriminate killing of Iraqi civilians can't both help our cause and hurt it. Only one of these talking points can be true, and I think we all know which one it is.

Back to Blankley. He continues his meandering column with this sudden burst of unhinged lunacy:

But what further cuts is to listen to media people
casually perpetrate libel against not just the still-
presumed-innocent Marines but against our
services more generally. To see the gleam in the
eyes of reporters happily cackling on about "other
possible incidents" -- about which they know not
whether they even exist -- is to be filled with a fury
that we have a system of journalism that permits
people with such mentalities to poison the minds of
the world with their malice.
What the hell is he talking about? Exactly who is perpetrating "libel" against the armed services "generally"? I watch the news and I read the papers, and I haven't seen a single instance where a reporter or pundit has said anything even remotely negative about the armed services generally. That just doesn't happen, ever. And who is "happily cackling" about alleged atrocities? The only thing poisoning anyone's mind is garbage like this.

Blankley ends his rant with an explicit call for media censorship:

[I]n time of war, there is no reason why military
censorship should not be enforced to shroud the
carrying out of justice from the eager eyes and ears
of enemy propagandists -- domestic and foreign.

Pending the implementation of such a policy,
journalists should sharply limit their reporting to the
bare established facts, preferably reported once on
page A36. (You know, the way they report
Democratic Party scandals.)

First of all, Democratic scandals on page A36? Did Blankley sleep through the 90s? Good lord, that's dumb. But back to the main issue. For Blankley and his ilk, the problem is never the events on the ground or the policies that precipitated those events. The problem is always the messenger. How muzzling the U.S. media would improve the situation on the ground or solve what is clearly an international image problem is never explained. Nor does it seem to occur to Blankley that transparency is a necessary prerequisite to functioning democracy.

I could go on and on, but what's the point? What Blankley's incoherent rant demonstrates is that the right-wing message machine, at least with respect to Iraq, has completely broken down. All that's left is a mix of pent-up anger and stale, inconsistent talking points.

UPDATE: The big news this morning is that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was apparently killed in an airstrike. That rare bit of good news (and it certainly is good news) comes just in time for people like Blankley, who have entirely run out of coherent things to say.

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