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There’s Just Two Kinds of People: Those Who Draw Simplistic Dichotomies, and Those Who Don’t

October 19th, 2006 · 2 Comments

Over in the L.A. Times, Jonah Goldberg gets around to conceding that the Iraq war was a mistake, and goes on to make a sound point, with an illustration that underscores his point nicely—but not in the way he intended:

In the dumbed-down debate we’re having, there are only two sides: Pro-war and antiwar. This is silly. First, very few folks who favored the Iraq invasion are abstractly pro-war. Second, the antiwar types aren’t really pacifists. They favor military intervention when it comes to stopping genocide in Darfur or starvation in Somalia or doing whatever that was President Clinton did in Haiti. In other words, their objection isn’t to war per se. It’s to wars that advance U.S. interests (or, allegedly, President Bush’s or Israel’s or ExxonMobil’s interests). I must confess that one of the things that made me reluctant to conclude that the Iraq war was a mistake was my general distaste for the shabbiness of the arguments on the antiwar side.

He is, of course, right that it’s silly to speak of “pro-war” and “antiwar” folks as undifferentiated blobs. Which makes it curious that he’s so eager to generalize in sweeping ways about what sorts of interventions “antiwar types” support, and what kinds of arguments they make.

Of course, this is in large part a function of an unfortunate institutional fact about opposition to war: It’s groups like the execrable ANSWER who have the infrastructure in place to take the lead organizing protests and rallies. So the antiwar position gets associated with—and for once I can use the word without hyperbole—Stalinist positions that I suspect are not shared by the large chunk of the American public that opposed the war even back in 2003. This is part of the reason that, as I argued two years ago, protests are so often counterproductive, pushing the few people they do influence away from the position of the protesters. I’ve no doubt that at least a few folks who were “liberal hawks” in the run-up to the war were more eager to dissociate themselves from the “all-a-Halliburton-conspiracy” wing of war opposition than they were actually enthusiastic about the prospects for creating a happy little liberal democracy in Mesopotamia.

Still, it’s a while since the giant papier-mâché puppets were put away, and there’s little enough excuse at this point for pretending to believe—let alone actually believing—that this contingent is representative of the majority of Americans who could now be described as “antiwar.” There were plenty of war critics who were making perfectly reasonable arguments back in 2003 and have now been proved largely correct—and I say “largely” only because it now seems that even some of the critics were too sanguine about the war. Making fun of the craziest possible subset of people on the other side of a binary divide is fun—I do it all the time. But Goldberg seems to have offered an inadvertent case study in the dangers of confusing your own entertainment with serious thinking about an issue.

Tags: War



2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Christopher M // Oct 19, 2006 at 8:30 pm

    Goldberg’s notion that “their objection isn’t to war per se. It’s to wars that advance U.S. interests” is pretty ludicrous in itself, since huge portions of the anti-Iraq-war left, including people that Goldberg probably considers hopeless pinkos, supported the war in Afghanistan. Talk about a “dumbed-down debate.”

  • 2 James Landrith // Oct 21, 2006 at 1:23 am

    Exactly Julian.

    I remember all the libertarians who marched in an ANSWER organized march in 2003. I marched then with a large contingent of veterans who opposed the coming Iraq war.

    We were there to oppose a particular war, not fight for ANSWER’s more ridiculous policy positions.

    And that fact that we had WWII, Korean, Vietnam, Gulf War veterans marching in opposition to the Iraq war should have given Goldberg pause.

    Of course, I’m not naive enough to actually believe my last paragraph. That would mean that Goldberg’s beliefs were based on a rational examination of the facts, rather than partisan kneejerkery.

    But that’s just my anarcho-cap veteran perspective on unnecessary wars (like the one I was sent to). I’m not being paid to write conservative rah-rah pre-emptive war pieces for conservatives who’ve never worn a uniform, let alone been to a war…