Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Andrew Sullivan Invites You to Take a Guilt Trip

One thing we didn’t need on the anniversary of 9/11 was a trip through Andrew Sullivan’s mind-warp.

A charter member of the Frank Rich School of storytelling, Sullivan joins his mentor Rich to use the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attack to blame our current financial crisis on George Bush.

Left thinking people have run out of solutions to our financial problems. So, they have set themselves the task of spinning a narrative that will exculpate them and their allies.

Rich pretends that this bit of mythmaking is a fact: “In time, the connection between the ten-year-old war in Afghanistan and our new civil war over America’s three-year-old economic crisis may well prove the most consequential historical fact of the hideous decade they bracket.”

Presumably, if George Bush had felt as guilty as Sullivan and Rich do, he would not have invaded Iraq and we would not have lost the moral high ground.

Neither man offers any conjectures about what the world would look like if we had not fought back. However imperfect our military efforts, and all military efforts are imperfect, what message would we have sent to the world if we had declared that we were too guilt-ridden to fight.

Would an explicit declaration of weakness have caused al Qaeda to stop its recruiting campaigns? Do you really imagine that aspiring jihadis are deterred by the feeling that their enemies lack the will to fight them?

Sullivan outdoes Rich because he offers his own mea culpa. Having once supported the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Sullivan now offers a dime-store psychological explanation for his failing: he was so consumed by fear that he felt compelled to follow Bush administration policies.

After Abu Ghraib and Gitmo, and upon discovering that we had waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Sullivan got back in touch with his primal guilt and turned against the war.

It reads like a conversion experience, only Sullivan does not appear to have found God. He sounds like someone who has overdosed on therapy.

Good therapy patient that he is, Sullivan seems to believe that he is right because he has gained insight into his emotions.

In fact, he has gained so much insight that he is morally incapable of giving America any credit for its anti-terrorism policy.

In his words: “So did bin Laden succeed? Not at all. On most fronts, he spectacularly failed—down to the amazing end to his pathetic, deranged life. He didn’t banish American influence or occupation in the Middle East; he temporarily intensified it. His dream of a caliphate is more remote than ever. But in this, it wasn’t the U.S. who defeated him; it was his own brutality and nihilism. From the streets of Tehran to Cairo, it appears that the young Muslim generation does not want to withdraw from the modern world into a cultural and intellectual blind alley forever. They are too busy on Twitter.”

If Sullivan were trying to eradicate American national pride, he could not have written a better paragraph. He seems congenitally ill-disposed to give America credit for anything. To his mind al Qaeda failed because of Twitter.

Sullivan does give Osama bin Ladan credit for his accomplishments: “We need to understand that 9/11 worked. It worked as a tactic to induce American self-destruction, even if it failed spectacularly as a strategy to advance Al Qaeda—and its heretical message of suicidal warfare—across the globe. It worked because this was not just another terror attack. “

How did it induce American self-destruction? Here is Rich's explanation. He seems to believe that the fundamental error lay in the Bush administration’s failure to raise taxes. In his emotionally overwrought language: “By portraying Afghanistan and Iraq as utterly cost-free to a credulous public, the Bush administration injected the cancer into the American body politic that threatens it today: If we don’t need new taxes to fight two wars, why do we need them for anything?”

Like most left thinking people Rich believes that if only we raised taxes on people like him, we would easily overcome our financial malaise. Those who offer that solution never reflect on the possibility that higher tax rates might produce lower revenues.

When your trade is storytelling, you do not need to involve yourself in policy analysis.

And naturally, neither Sullivan nor Rich has a word to say about the Obama administration’s profligate and wasteful spending.

They are too busy indicting the Bush administration. For several years now Sullivan has been leading this charge. Here is his latest attack: “Bin Laden and his henchmen failed, in other words. But our own fear won. Fear stopped us, overwhelmed us, as our ra-tion-al-ity deserted us. Yes, it was understandable, given what we endured that September morning. But we need to admit that our response was close to fatal. A bankrupted America that tortured innocents and disregarded its own Constitution is barely recognizable as America.

“We have survived and endured as a civilization because we have recognized our errors and corrected most of them. That capacity is proof that our democracy still lives. But fear is a tougher enemy than mere mistakes. It can only be overcome by hope. And hope is a choice, not a fate.”

Hope will out, Sullivan says. Isn’t he trying to argue, against the evidence, that his favorite president, Barack Obama, the man who ran on what turned out to be a false promise of returning us to hope, is the solution to the problems created by the Bush administration?

If you have had enough of Andrew Sullivan’s moral agony—who hasn’t?—let’s turn to George Friedman’s take on the aftermath of 9/11.

If our mission was to ensure that there would be no more terrorist attacks on American soil, then, Friedman declares, we have succeeded. He reminds us that after 9/11 we all thought that the attack on the World Trade Center would only be the first among many such incidents.

In his words: “Yet there have been no further attacks. This is not, I think, because they did not intend to carry out such attacks. It is because the United States forced the al Qaeda leadership to flee Afghanistan during the early days of the U.S. war, disrupting command and control. It is also because U.S. covert operations on a global scale attacked and disrupted al Qaeda’s strength on the ground and penetrated its communications. A significant number of attacks on the United States were planned and prosecuted. They were all disrupted before they could be launched, save for the attempted and failed bombing in Times Square, the famed shoe bomber and, my favorite, the crotch bomber.”

Friedman is more involved in fact than fiction, so he makes yet another attempt to distinguish warfare from the criminal justice system. He criticizes the Bush administration for having confused the issue by suggesting that bin Laden be brought to justice.

In his words: “War is not about bringing people to justice. It is about destroying their ability to wage war. The contemporary confusion between warfare and criminality creates profound confusion about the rules under which you operate. There are the rules of war as set forth in the Geneva Conventions, and there are criminal actions. The former are designed to facilitate the defense of national interests and involve killing people because of the uniform they wear. The latter is about punishing people for prior action. I have never sorted through what it was that the Bush administration thought it was doing.

“The mission of the U.S. government was to prevent further attacks on the homeland. The Geneva Conventions, for the most part, didn’t apply. Criminal law is not about prevention. The inability of the law to deal with reality generated an image of American lawlessness.”

It is not, Friedman explains, a simple issue: “This entire matter is made more complex by the fact that al Qaeda doesn’t wear a uniform. Under the Geneva Conventions, there is no protection for those who do not openly carry weapons or wear uniforms or at least armbands. They are regarded as violating the rules of war. If they are not protected by the rules of war then they must fall under criminal law by default. But criminal law is not really focused on preventing acts so much as it is on punishing them. And as satisfying as it is to capture someone who did something, the real point of the U.S. response to 9/11 was to prevent anyone else from doing something — killing and capturing people who have not done anything yet but who might.”

As for those who are whining about how terrible it is that we do not occupy the moral high ground, Friedman suggests that they are wearing moral blinders.

In his words: “The choice for the United States was to accept the danger of another al Qaeda attack — an event that I am certain was intended and would have happened without a forceful U.S. response — or accept innocent casualties elsewhere. The foundation of a polity is that it protects its own at the cost of others. This doctrine might be troubling, but few of us in World War II felt that protecting Americans by bombing German and Japanese cities was a bad idea. If this troubles us, the history of warfare should trouble us. And if the history of warfare troubles us, we should bear in mind that we are all its heirs and beneficiaries, particularly in the United States.”

It’s always good to shed some light on the real issues. With any luck some of the light will make its way into the dark corners where Andrew Sullivan and Frank Rich are concocting their fictions.

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