The War on Iraq

In Fixed Opinions, or The Hinge of History, Joan Didion makes a chilling comparison between the mood of the country she encountered on a recent book tour with the mood of August 1914. The article is well worth reading. It is both even-handed and humble in its posing of questions. Predictably, the ever-moronic Andrew Sullivan casts this subtle and telling meditation on the mood of the country towards war in the post-9/11 period as evidence of “a certain type of decay in thinking on the intellectual left.” Sullivan has always had a knack for writing lines that have no real meaning, no external logic, outside of his own restricted and massively contradictory worldview. For instance: “Their argument about where we should go from here is essentially, ‘We shouldn’t be here in the first place.’” Er, what is self-evidently wrong with declaring that US policy has been partly responsible for getting us into this mess in the first place?

I have always been bothered by the manner in which the US government, the government of my country, tends to claim to adhere to very high ideals, but then repeatedly acts in ways that are completely antithetical to those ideals. Individual responsibility is one of the basic tenets of all of American political and civil society, yet, we do nothing in our foreign policy to try to foster responsibility on the part of other governments. Nor do we respect the sovereignty of those nations. It’s not our business to be enacting “regime change” in Iraq, at least not through direct means. The world hates us precisely because of the arrogance and hubris of a nation that claims to know what is best for everyone else, while our own house is in such an incredible mess.

Sullivan, naturally, goes off on a tangent, criticising Didion’s article for not proposing how to get out of the current situation. Well, guess what, Andrew? Your reading comprehension is about zero, since that wasn’t the purpose of the article. Sullivan is, as always, peculiarly selective in his reading of the text he criticizes. He picks and chooses the parts out of context and then mixes and matches them to create messages that were not present in what Didion wrote, only so he can then have something to hold up to ridicule.

And the criticism that Didion is in a “liberal cocoon” is ludicrous itself, as Didion is largely reporting reactions from people she has met around the country during tours promoting her books. Yes, perhaps she is likely to encounter only people who are inclined to share her part of the political continuum, but since when are the opinions of those in that part of the continuum irrelevant? Sullivan may not want to hear it, but, in fact, public opinion polls, pointedly not limited only to one end of the political spectrum, have repeatedly shown huge doubts about the President’s war plans. The sentiments Didion relates are right in line with the positions held by the majority of Americans as demonstrated in those polls. Sullivan may very well think the polls are incorrect, but he doesn’t address them. He also chooses to ignore Didion’s distinction between what the American public thinks and what the administration in Washington and the media in Washington and New York are presenting as the spectrum of debate. It is Sullivan who is in the cocoon, because he is completely wrapped up in the Washington/New York political-media cocoon and can’t see that what Didion reports does, in fact, matter — that the American people are not really satisfied with the move to war.

But, it gets worse. Sullivan says the core of Didon’s argument is that Israel is the source of all problems. Well, that’s not at all what Didion said. Instead, she takes the situation of the US relationship to Israel and the history of it as one example of the kind of political subject that has become impossible to discuss rationally. Sullivan’s reaction demonstrates that Didion is spot on in her analysis, since he can only demonstrate exactly how far his knee jerks when anyone merely raises the question of whether or not the historical US policy on Isreal has been good or bad for the US as a whole.

I don’t know why I bother reading Sullivan. He is so clearly out to lunch and unable to think clearly on any issue that I should just do myself a favor and not read his articles. My blood pressure would be lower if I did, I think.