Thursday, September 8, 2011

The War on the War on Terror

As I was mentioning on Tuesday, the narrative reconstruction of the decade following 9/11 is proceeding apace.

Frank Rich and Andrew Sullivan have provided leadership for the revisionist wing of the liberal media elite, and one would be remiss if one did not recognize their importance and influence..

Their musings and ramblings, presented as advanced storytelling, will eventually become lingua franca in any liberal account of that decade.

Frank Rich begins by noting that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 the nation achieved national unity. If that unity was lost when the nation returned to divisive political posturing, the fault can only lie, in Rich’s story, with the Bush administration.

Rich describes the post-attack patriotic fervor: “The hallowed burial grounds of 9/11 were supposed to bequeath us a stronger nation, not a busted one. We were supposed to be left with a finer legacy than Gitmo and the Patriot Act. When we woke up on September 12, we imagined a whole host of civic virtues that might rise from the smoldering ruins. The New ­Normal promised a new national unity and, of all unlikely miracles, bi-partisanship: The still-green president had a near-perfect approval rating for weeks. We would at last cast off our two-decade holiday from history, during which we had mostly ignored a steady barrage of terrorist threats and attacks. We would embrace a selfless wartime patriotism built on the awesome example of those regular Americans who ran to the rescue on that terrifying day of mass death, at the price of their own health and sometimes their lives.”

To give credit where credit is due, Frank Rich does write very well. When someone writes well his words take on added credibility. Yet, careless readers tend to get lulled into complacency by good writing. They end up confusing style for substance.

Forced to address the loss of national unity, and thoroughly blind to the role that he and his liberal compatriots may have played, Rich goes into fulmination mode and launches an attack on the Bush administration.

National unity was lost, Rich avers, because Republicans, the mainstream media, commercial interests and even bizarre cults started acting like terrorists. Note Rich’s use of the word “hijacking” to describe these efforts. He is inviting his readers to compare the Bush administration reaction with the original hijackings.

Rich explained: “What arrived instead, sadly enough, was another hijacking—of 9/11 by those who exploited it for motives large and petty, both ideological and crassly ­commercial. The most lethal of these hijackings was the Bush administration’s repurposing of 9/11 for a war against a country that had not attacked us. So devilishly clever was the selling of the Saddam-for-Osama bait-and-switch that almost half the country would come to believe that Iraqis were among the 9/11 hijackers. No less shabby, if far less catastrophic, was the milking of 9/11 for the lesser causes of self-promotion and product placement by those seeking either power or profit. From the Bush-reelection campaign ad with an image of a flag-draped stretcher carrying remains at ground zero to the donning of flag pins by television anchors and pandering politicians, no opportunistic appropriation of 9/11 was too sleazy to be off-limits. T-shirt hawkers and Scientologists rushed downtown to merchandise their wares; NBC re-branded its prime-time entertainment by outfitting its ubiquitous peacock logo with stars and stripes.”

If you missed the point, Rich emphasizes:  “National unity proved to be short-lived. An extreme, jingoistic patriotism soon gripped the land, accompanied by a rigid code of political correctness. You were either with the White House or you were with the terrorists.” 

And again, “The sanitizing of 9/11 and the falsification of its genesis to jump-start a second war ended up muddying and corrupting the memory of the event rather than giving hawks and the right’s p.c.-police the permanent “war on terror” they craved. The attack’s meaning was eviscerated by its linkage to the endless debacle in Iraq. The images of the day were so bowdlerized and so shrouded in euphemistic pieties that the viciousness of the slaughter was gradually muted. “

Admittedly, the first sentence in this passage is rather poorly written, but that is not its greatest fault.

Frank Rich has a blind spot. He has very selective memory. He fails even to mention the war on the war on terror. Perhaps he is embarrassed to have been part of it. Perhaps he refuses to take responsibility for his contribution to divisive partisanship.

Either way, failing to see that he and his cohorts have been pushing people off the national unity train makes Rich’s account self-serving and self-exculpating.

This morning Dan Henninger reminds us of some of the salient moments in the war on the war on terror.

He reminds us that liberal Democrats never really believed that George Bush was a legitimate president. They held, and hold today, that Bush v. Gore was wrongly decided. He writes: “The chances that any Bush policies would retain their support were minimal, with or without 9/11.”

It was not just the left’s growing opposition to the Iraq War. The first volleys in the war on the war on terror were directed against the Patriot Act. Eventually, they were aimed at many other Bush administration anti-terrorism policies.

Henninger reminds us: “The Patriot Act, of course, became one of the most litigated and despised pieces of legislation in the nation's history. The antiterror law passed the Senate by a 98-1 vote in October 2001 (at the time of anthrax episodes in the Capitol and elsewhere). But eventually the national Democratic Party and its affiliates went into opposition to ‘the Bush war on terror.’ In time, even the nomenclature of the enemy was in dispute.

“Virtually every aspect of the Bush antiterror policies became a target for litigation from the ACLU, opposition in Congress and press exposures: the wiretaps, Guantanamo, the Swift program to track terrorist finances, military courts, the Bush Doctrine of pre-preemptive strikes, terrorist interrogations. Opposition to the Iraq war rose, too, but the effort to thwart the provisions of the Patriot Act was a separate front.”

It was not, Henninger reminds us, just a policy disagreement. When he talks about “a separate front” he is using a martial metaphor.

The liberal left declared war on the Bush administration: “But how does one account for the intense personal animosity directed toward George Bush and those who worked for him in the government? They were hated, reviled, mocked. Recall, for instance, the effort to disbar former Justice Department officials John Yoo and Jay Bybee for writing the legal opinions on aggressive interrogations. Opposition wasn't enough. The destruction of reputation became a policy goal.”

The liberal left, including Frank Rich and Andrew Sullivan went to war against the Bush administration. They decided that the only way to advance their agenda was to destroy the Bush administration.

Henninger is correct to say that national unity gave way to old-fashioned political partisanship. Democrats must have awakened one day to the realization that if they kept cheering for George Bush they would be consigned to permanent minority status.

The ACLU and liberal intellectuals prepared the terrain. When the Iraq War started going badly, and after Hurricane Katrina fixed the image of Bush's incompetence in the public mind, they were more than ready to go on the attack.

Still and all, was there something more to it than political partisanship? The violence of the rhetoric suggests a military campaign, not a civil political debate.

I have suggested that the nature of the war on the war on terror seems to have another provenance. That would be Islamophobia. That means: fear of Islam, not, as is commonly thought, hatred of Islam.

When your country is attacked and its citizens slaughtered, you know that it is right and proper to fight back. If you know who the enemy is, you know against whom to direct your righteous ire.

What if you also know that enemy that attacked your country is still very dangerous… in particular, to people like you? What if you know that this enemy has demonstrated the ability to terrorize and even to murder writers around the world? What if you remember the fatwa issued against a novelist named Salman Rushdie? What if you remember the translators who were murdered in support of the fatwa?

Immediately after 9/11 there was an outpouring of patriotism. Frank Rich was not very happy that it took a jingoist form, but, like it or not, that’s what wartime patriotism looks like.

Within a few years, the initial rush of vigorous patriotism had died down and it became acceptable to criticize the Bush administration.

What happens then if you suspect that attacking Islamic terrorism, even calling it by its proper name, might put you on a terrorist hit list? How would you weigh the risk of attacking Islamic terrorists with the risk you would incur by throwing a tantrum against the Bush administration?

Would it not seem reasonable, in your panic, to seek shelter by declaring war on the war on terror? If you were Frank Rich or Andrew Sullivan, where would you rather live? In George Bush’s America or in the Caliphate? Where would you feel more safe? Where would you feel less afraid?

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