Ah, Jeff Goldstein…
Goldstein is smarter than the average wingnut, and takes care to avoid many of the pitfalls normally associated with a “Stab in the Back” argument. He allows that people in a free society have every right to oppose the war. Nevertheless, he contends, the questioning of the Iraq War has objectively damaged the war effort; while people may be free to argue against the war, it is not wise for them to do so. To vocally oppose this war is not traitorous, but is to be without rectitude and oblivious to the benefits of presenting a “unifed front” in the War on Terror. Indeed, Goldstein’s critics are guilty of the following:
Face it: my critics know [that showing a united front against the terrorists would weaken the insurgency]. And so all these smarmy and utterly tranparent attempts to suggest that I am trying to “blame leftists” for a loss in Iraq is simply the manifestation of guilty consciences bursting like boils and oiling up the internet with so much pus-thickened epiphany juice.
One wonders what precisely the role of the loyal opposition during war would be to a guy like Jeff Goldstein. He doesn’t make it completely clear, although, from what I can tell, it has something to do with being Bill Buckley rather than Juan Cole or Paul Krugman. I’ll confess that I don’t see the difference; the three above are convinced that US action in Iraq is pointless and destructive, and have used the media resources available to them to make their views known. Goldstein tries to parse the difference with this:
It is clear that the post took issue not with critiques of the particular strategies and tactics (which I note quite clearly in the piece proper), but rather with those whose hatred of the campaign and the current administration turned them into de facto propagandists for the enemy, especially insofar as they were willing to repeat lies as truths (because, as Glenn Greenwald argued) the ends justify the means.
Although, again, the difference escapes me as anything other than an effort to discredit left-wing critics while excusing right-wing critics. Jesse Taylor=De facto propagandist for the enemy; Bill Buckley, even though he makes more far reaching claims regarding the defeat of the United States=Critique of particular strategy and tactic. I suppose in the end the question for Goldstein comes down to tone; if you’re nice, respectful, and like the President, you’re a legitimate critic. If not, your guilty conscience is bursting forth like so many pus-filled boils.
The fact is that democratic governments, when they decide upon war, must account for the possibility of opposition. This is the heart of democracy; the decision to go to war is perhaps the most crucial that a democracy can make, and must, accordingly, be given the weightiest of democratic deliberation. It’s not as if opposition to war in democratic countries is something that started in 1967, although conservatives would like to think so. Vigorous anti-war movements have taken place in virtually every war that the United States has conducted since the American Revolution. Nor is the United States unusual in this; anti-war movements were common in European democracies, as well. When the war is as obviously ill-conceived, poorly executed, and poorly prepared for as the Iraq adventure, the criticism will be correspondingly harsher.
Long story short, when a democratic country engages in a manifestly stupid war in an egregiously inept fashion, you can expect to take some heat.
Goldstein also makes this claim,
The fact is, the insurgency simply cannot succeed militarily. And Iraqis have voted in spectacular numbers for an attempt at democratic governance.
Which means the only hope of the insurgency from the start has been to break our will by inflicting casualties, staging spectacular terrorist strikes (that serve the dual purpose of recruiting new insurgents and playing to our sensationalist and largely anti-war media), and fomenting a civil war between Shia and Sunni in an effort to sweep aside the prospect of democratic coalitions forming among long-warring sectarian groups.
which clearly demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of what war, insurgency, and “military” mean. The insurgency can succeed militarily by steadily increasing the costs of the occupation in blood and treasure. This is how an insurgency succeeds; it is very, very rare than an insurgency will move to Mao’s phase three of operations. Typically, in an occupation situation, they don’t need to. Insurgents understand that they will ALWAYS place more value on victory than the occupier; the only question is whether they can exact sufficient costs to drive the occupation forces out. This is a military strategy, one that sometimes succeeds and sometimes does not. It is a strategy which works as well on authoritarian states as it does on democratic ones; the Soviet Union was not “militarily” defeated by the Afghan resistance in 1988, for example. Since Goldstein is obviously a really smart guy (and I mean that in all sincerity; I do respect Goldstein’s blogging) I can only assume that his obtuseness on this point is deliberate.
From the deliberately to the accidentally obtuse, let’s take a look at Victor Davis Hanson, who is manifestly not a smart guy. Hanson repeats the traditional wingnut talking points; the US is winning, the terrorist are desperate, terrorist success is a further demonstration of how desperate they are, etc. Hanson does go farther than Goldstein, and argues that, really, criticism is objectively undemocratic; if the Founding Fathers had questioned George Washington’s military strategy, there would have been no American Revolution.
VDH goes on to make clearer that the kind of second-guessing we’re seeing is akin to refighting Pearl Harbor on the road to Okinawa. VDH, it appears, has talked to the soldiers in Iraq and to the planners in Washington, and remains quite confident.
VDH should perhaps take a closer look at the books on military history that line his shelves; Admiral Husband E. Kimmel did not, in fact, lead the naval war against Japan. Why? Second guessing. Lieutenant General Walter Short didn’t lead the ground campagin. Why? Second guessing. General George B. McClellan didn’t accept Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Why? Second guessing. The history of democracy at war is repleat with examples of inept military officers and civilian officials who are sacked because of their inability to execute the war properly. This is as it should be; it is one of the reasons that democracies fight well. The other reason is that democracies choose their wars wisely, but it’s too late for that one now….