Skip to comments.Ask Dr. Ridgley: What's the Post-War Left to Do?
Posted on 03/14/2003 7:04:09 AM PST by Stand Watch Listen
Dear Dr. Ridgley:
Many of us newspaper columnists in the anti-war Left are worried about the upcoming war with Iraq and what its aftermath means for us professionally. It's apparent that nothing we anti-war columnists can do will stop the U.S. from its aggression against Iraq. War is inevitable. We're looking ahead, and many of us don't like what we see.
American troops are likely to be met in Baghdad by cheering thousands, similar to the welcome given allied troops in the liberation of Paris from the Nazis and their Vichy collaborators (no irony there, eh?).
Saddam Hussein's heinous crimes against humanity will be exposed when his torture chambers are opened to the media and thousands of prisoners released. Huge stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons will be captured and unearthed from their underground bunkers in Tikrit, Baghdad, and other cities.
Captured records will likely expose France and Germany as collaborators with Iraq in its chemical and nuclear weapons program. This will be a disaster for the Left of momentous proportions not seen since the fall of the Soviet Union. All of this presents us columnists on the anti-war Left with what could be an insurmountable problem.
What do we write about after this war demonstrates that Iraq is everything that the George Bush administration said it was? Must we eat crow for this obscene administration?
Worried in Washington, D.C.
I've received many letters from Leftist pundits on this topic: What do we write when we're proven wrong on Iraq? What can we possibly say in the aftermath of a great American victory? Should we join in the victory celebration or instead indulge in a sullen teeth-gnashing silence for at least a couple of days? Good questions, all.
Of one thing we can be certain-there will be a post-war, post-Saddam Iraq, and this situation will be on us within a month. Much of what this misbegotten administration has claimed will likely be proved true. How will the anti-war Left handle it?
Fortunately, there's no need for hand-wringing. We have a pool of experience developed over decades of being wrong on the facts but correct theoretically and morally.
Herewith is a primer for anti-war pundits and talking heads to help you navigate the treacherous shoals of a world without Saddam, without a bothersome U.N., without a France that anyone listens to, and with America triumphant.
Many old hands on the Left already know most of these chestnuts, but I'll review them for the benefit of journalists who came of age since the last imperialist gulf war in 1991 and are still feeling their way in the practice of liberation journalism. I'll also recommend who can best utilize the various techniques.
No mea culpa : The first thing you must realize is that we on the left never, ever admit we're wrong. Let this be your touchstone, so you can throw away all those "just in case" mea culpa columns you ginned-up in the event things went excessively bad for the Saddam team. Recommended: Everyone.
Blame Amerika for something (it's never out of fashion for you baby-boomers to spell America with a 'k.'). Don't get caught up in trying to explain yourself or why you defended a brutal dictator and his torture chambers and his chemical weapons and all of that. Instead, attack .
Do this obliquely. Don't write about what the facts show. Remember that reality is what you make of it, so speak vaguely. Use generalities. Mention the "Pentagon death machine." Talk about "killing fields." Work into your column "butchery," "slaughter" and "madmen."
Emphasize unintended civilian deaths while ignoring the atrocities committed by Saddam against his own people. Call this the first sad victory of the "new colonialism." Use words and phrases like "imperialism," "hegemony," and "the world's policeman." Recommended: Katha Pollitt. Foreigners such as Regis Debray will also find this useful.
Suggest that it's sinister. Intone ominously about "big oil interests" without ever really saying what you mean. Say that you're "disappointed in" and "deeply saddened by" displays of "patriotism bordering on jingoism." This war heralds a new "dark time." Mention a "conspiracy of shadowy economic interests."
You can even dust off "quagmire," although this one's wearing thin. I know that this is a favorite among anti-war types over 45, but use it sparingly. Recommended: Mary McGrory and Richard Cohen can get mileage here. Anthony Lewis and Helen Thomas, too.
Belittle/minimize the achievement. This is sneer-and-curled-lip territory. "What's to cheer about? This was only the Iraqi military, after all-a third-rate power. Hurrah." "The real question is why it took so long for the American steamroller to crush a fourth-rate power." "This was only the Iraqi military, a fifth-rate power; the real test will be [fill in the blank appropriately]." Recommended: Eric Alterman, Paul Begala.
The "New Crusades" motif. Note that Christians have a long history of tyrannizing the Middle East, and that this so-called victory is no different. Use terms like "Christian arrogance." Warn of the "dangers of religious fundamentalism of any sort." Mention "21st Century Crusaders." If you're feeling playful, refer to "our own Christian Taliban." Recommended: All anti-religious pundits.
Multicultural argument. This is related to the Christian - Muslim divide, and is used on campuses all the time. It's sophomoric and shopworn but you can whip this old dog to his feet a couple of times to help you weather the initial weeks after Iraq collapses.
Remember that "the imposition of western values on another civilization far older than our own is simply wrong." This one is strengthened considerably if you can work in "racism" and talk sweepingly of "wars against people of color." Recommended: Any Left-wing "pundit of color" or pundit with an exotic-sounding name can use this to good effect. Womyn can use this, but white males stay away.
Change the subject. This tactic is always worth a column or two. Instead of talking about the obvious topic-the victoriously concluded war-mention the ongoing "plight of the Palestinians" and wonder aloud if the U.S. will mount a similar operation to "liberate" the Palestinians from Israeli "occupation."
Likewise, wonder if the U.S. is ready to tackle the "much tougher task" of taking on North Korea. Venture afield and resurface the "evils" of "globalization" or of environmental doom. There's a lot of material here-remember global warming and the Kyoto Treaty?
Trot out a golden oldie: the "vanishing rain forest." Refer to this administration's "neglect of the domestic agenda." As a nice touch, revisit and describe in detail the many peace demonstrations; mention the "gorgeous mosaic" and the "joy of seeing millions marching for what's right." Recommended: Maureen Dowd, Eric Alterman, and Seymour Hersh.
Attack the "style" of the victors. Hector against "misplaced gloating" by those who favored military action from the start. Use terms like "bloodlust," "bullying," "zeal," "messianic," "evangelical," "missionary," "manifest destiny."
Strongly imply that there was something "unclean" about this war against a "tin-pot dictator." Mention your "deep sadness" at the images of dead and dismembered Iraqi soldiers who, after all, "were only defending their homeland." Express "fear for the future of our nation." Recommended: Maureen Dowd again, and Helen Thomas, especially.
Congratulate yourself and don't apologize. This should be a centerpiece column for you and should contain the words "peace" and "children" at least three times. Useful phrases: "It's never wrong to stand for peace." "How many Iraqi children would be alive today if peace had prevailed?" "Victory celebration? No, I'd rather pray for the children instead." (This last one has religious overtones, so use it sparingly and only if you feel comfortable)
Focus on what you, yourself, "feel." Work yourself and your emotions into the piece and talk about your reactions to the war. Talk of your own "shame." Couple with snide references to amorphous business interests: "Well, it looks like Bush and his cronies in the oil business are happy now."
Claim that you knew this would be the outcome all along and credit everyone but the administration with any positives-talk about "Chirac's bold stand against American megalomania," "The Clinton Administration's patience and restraint," "Hans Blix's crucial role in bringing Iraq to heel in spite of American bellicosity." Recommended: Eric Alterman, Robert Scheer, and Jonathan Schell are masters at this technique, but every pundit on the anti-war Left should develop at least a serviceable expertise with it. Call it "moral belligerence"
The Moral Lament. This workhorse is a favorite and trumps most anything. It's especially valuable because it can't be overused. Having remained silent on Saddam's crimes against humanity, you may think you're restricted from post-war moralizing, but you're limited in no such way.
Remember that piety and self-congratulation on our morally superior stances infuriate the right-wingers, especially when they incorporate some element of perceived hypocrisy. If you're looking for examples of how to use this technique with smug skill, see Katha Pollitt over at The Nation . It's her specialty.
The great thing about this technique is that you don't have to know the facts about any particular issue. You can always be right no matter the specifics. In fact, you can write this column now , without knowing anything .
Talk of how there are "no winners in war." Lament the many civilian casualties, and ignore celebrations by the Iraqi people that suggest they welcome Saddam's ouster. Talk vaguely about the "human cost" of this "immoral war." Lament the "loss of innocent life." Lament the crippling of the U.N., which heralds a new age of "unilateral aggression" by a "rogue America."
Ignore the broad international coalition that ousted Saddam; instead, focus on the "Coalition of the Moral" that opposed war, which includes France, Germany, Syria, Russia, Libya, Iran, and Cuba.
Immediately criticize any post-Saddam regime mercilessly. Describe it as "inauthentic." Hold it to an impossible moral standard, even as you now hold the Saddam regime to no moral standard at all. These things are, after all, relative and situational, and we're concerned with larger issues, not consistency.
Remember how we belittled the liberation of Grenada as the bullying of a postage-stamp-sized island? That technique is appropriate here and should get you through the initial onslaught of smug right-wingers whining "I told you so."
Feel free to nit-pick the military victory and belittle it. Sharp-shoot the military occupation government as not being "democratic" enough. Focus on the "inhumane" treatment of prisoners of war, and insist that their "rights be respected" as they were "only defending their homeland" against a "foreign invader."
Preempt calls for war crimes trials for Saddam's henchmen by suggesting that the U.S. ought to put its own generals and politicians on trial for waging a "brutal war of aggression." Mention Kissinger and Pinochet.Recommended: All anti-war Left pundits.
As you write your pieces (and I suggest you begin now), ignore or dismiss the larger positive ramifications of one of the most important civilizing actions of our age-the liberation of Iraq and the attendant coming transformation of the Middle East.
Instead, combine several of the forgoing techniques in this fashion: "All this gloating and these so-called 'victory' celebrations are equivalent to dancing on the graves of Iraqi children, killed in the Christian onslaught on this devoutly Muslim nation."
Or try this: "This so-called religious man unleashed a brutal killing machine on a country that attacked no one, threatened no one, and was working within the framework of civilized nations to achieve a peaceful resolution to an international dispute. Who is the dictator and who is the diplomat? Who is civilized and who is not?"
Or this: "I have no stomach for victory celebrations that praise the killing of women and children, that honor the Pentagon's death machine for slaughtering draftees defending their homeland, and that serve none but the big oil interests."
When Iraq goes down and this cause has been closed out, I know you'll be disheartened and tempted to put away the cheap poster paint, to closet the signs, to shelve the Peter, Paul, and Mary songbook, to slide the bongos under the bed, and to sigh about what might been; the destruction of Israel, Saddam's hegemony in the Middle East, greatly diminished American power and influence, and weekly terrorist attacks in the U.S. But remember that creativity and boldness can carry the day in those first precious weeks after Iraq falls.
A flurry of columns sporting the above techniques will see you through another civilizational loss, just as they did after Ronald Reagan ended the Cold War.
Always remember that the only real alternative is to congratulate the Bush administration for being right all along.
And that's just not an option.
Stanley K. Ridgley is president of the Russian-American Institute, Inc. and a former military intelligence officer.
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Always remember that the only real alternative is to congratulate the Bush administration for being right all along.Christopher Hitchens is doing exactly that ... of course his pals on the Left are pretty bummed.
And that's just not an option.
For those unaware, he also wrote an excellent anti-Clinton book, which probably started him on the way to our side.
Bookmarked for later reference.
This expose should shame and embarras them, but of course, it wont...
Okay, this one troubles me. It may not be "wrong" but will it work over there? There called "western" values for a reason. Let the "value-system" of post-war Iraq find its own level, while hopefully a state along the lines of Turkey emerges.
And when all else fails, call Bush a Nazi, that never fails to persuade the truly thoughtful among us.