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On the Exploitation of Mass Murder

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Jennifer Rubin didn’t have such a good weekend. As a general rule, it’s pretty easy not to use the murder of ninety-three Norwegians to shill for the defense industry.  For example, instead of leaping to the conclusion that Islamic terrorists were responsible for the attacks, then denouncing advocates of defense cuts as insufficiently attentive to “evil,” Jennifer Rubin could have gone for a walk.  She could have taken a nap, changed the oil in her car, read a book, watched a baseball game, or baked a cake.  Any one of those might have delayed her  contribution sufficiently to make clear that there was at least a chance that the attack wasn’t perpetrated by Islamic extremists.  Had she just waited a short while before publishing a post using ninety-three dead Norwegians as props to attack anyone who proposed cuts to the US defense budget, then she might not have been subjected to the cruel (if righteous) derision of her political enemies. To be sure, using fresh corpses to dress up a political position is always ethically sketchy, but the fact that Rubin got the particulars of the incident so strikingly wrong made for a noxious brew of amorality and stupidity.

Wait. Before. You. Post. If it helps, “WAPO” can be read as a shorthand reminder for WAit before you POst.

But of course she didn’t, and now we have a situation.  Here’s what she wrote on Friday:

This is a sobering reminder for those who think it’s too expensive to wage a war against jihadists. I spoke to Gary Schmitt of the American Enterprise Institute, who has been critical of proposed cuts in defense and of President Obama’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan. “There has been a lot of talk over the past few months on how we’ve got al-Qaeda on the run and, compared with what it once was, it’s become a rump organization. But as the attack in Oslo reminds us, there are plenty of al-Qaeda allies still operating. No doubt cutting the head off a snake is important; the problem is, we’re dealing with global nest of snakes…”

… Some irresponsible lawmakers on both sides of the aisle — I will point the finger at Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee and yet backed the Gang of Six scheme to cut $800 billion from defense — would have us believe that enormous defense cuts would not affect our national security. Obama would have us believe that al-Qaeda is almost caput and that we can wrap up things in Afghanistan. All of these are rationalizations for doing something very rash, namely curbing our ability to defend the United States and our allies in a very dangerous world.

Ahem.

It’s clear she was either embarrassed by this, or a touch concerned about her job; there are clearly no worries on the latter front, since Fred Hiatt has ensured that there is no mortal sin but one that conservatives can commit under the Washington Post banner. Nevertheless, this is rich:

That the suspect here is a blond Norwegian does not support the proposition that we can rest easy with regard to the panoply of threats we face or that homeland security, intelligence and traditional military can be pruned back. To the contrary, the world remains very dangerous because very bad people will do horrendous things. There are many more jihadists than blond Norwegians out to kill Americans, and we should keep our eye on the systemic and far more potent threats that stem from an ideological war with the West.

In our own debates about national security, conservatives argue that national security spending is deserving of a higher priority than other expenditures. The defense budget is not numbers on a balance sheet as some of those on the left and right insist. Cutting defense spending is not the same as cutting domestic spending. That light rail project can wait, or states can do it, or we can decide it’s a boondoggle not worth doing even if we had the money. But national security is solely a federal function, and it can’t be put off.

There’s a certain risk in engaging too closely with this, as if it’s something that should be regarded as a “conversation starter.”  Nevertheless, if you pay careful attention you’ll note two things. First, upper class tax cuts appear to be more important than either the defense budget or domestic spending. There’s not even any consideration given to the notion that higher revenues might enable both higher defense and higher domestic spending.  Rubin has spent most of the weekend lauding John Boehner’s efforts to ensure that the federal government of the United States collects only a minimal amount of revenue; there’s no hint whatsoever that she considers the possibility that defense might be funded through additional taxes. That should be enough to demonstrate how serious Jennifer Rubin really is about defense spending; that next aircraft carrier is critically important, unless millionaires have to pay a slightly higher tax rate in order to finance it.

Second, Rubin doesn’t bother to defend any specific level of military spending. The argument made for defense cuts by just about everyone is that the military component of security is oversupplied in the United States; we spend more than we actually need in order to defend ourselves. A corollary of this argument is the (rather obvious) observation that aircraft carriers, F-35s, and armored personnel carriers are relatively inefficient ways of defending the United States from terrorists. Rubin doesn’t bother to engage with this argument. Aircraft carriers may be great at what they do, but Rubin makes the case for the defense budget specifically in terms of the fight against terrorism and the indefinite occupation of Afghanistan.

This goes to the greater irony behind Rubin’s initial argument.  The Oslo attacks do demonstrate rather conclusively that it is possible to launch mass casualty attacks without support from “safe havens” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen.  Over the past ten years, ideologically committed individuals and groups have found it relatively easy to do tremendous damage without significant material links to terrorist camps and networks in the places Rubin thinks we need to bomb.  In a sense, the early Islamophobic reaction to the Oslo bombings actually makes more sense than Rubin’s account; if the problem really is bad people, then the real remedies are in immigration, assimilation, and domestic security policy, rather than the purchase of extraordinarily expensive military equipment and the conquest and occupation of “rogue” states.  Of course, given that illiberal assimilation policy and rhetoric appear to generate ideological committed individuals prepared to undertake both Islamic and right wing terrorism, the Islamophobe solution doesn’t really work, either.  However, it’s also worth pointing out that the  implications of the conquest and indefinite occupation of Islamic countries for domestic terrorism ought to be taken seriously.

But it’s not really as if Jennifer Rubin thought all of this through when she decided to decorate her paean to the defense budget with 93 dead Norwegians.  She was given a perch by the Washington Post, and she’s decided to use it to shill for the defense industry.  The particulars aren’t really relevant.  The only reason this specific case is notable is that she got the details so terribly wrong that she looks like a moron as well as a hack.   The editors of the Washington Post knew who she was and what she would do when they hired her.  They bear ultimate responsibility for the gross indecency of her writing.

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