Richard Cohen still has a prestigious and presumably high-paying job telling people what to think on the Washington Post editorial page, despite the fact that he once wrote that Colin Powell’s Iraq farce at the UN “had to prove to anyone that Iraq not only hasn’t accounted for its weapons of mass destruction but without a doubt still retains them. Only a fool–or possibly a Frenchman–could conclude otherwise.” It should come as no surprise that Cohen, despite an inane “wrong for the right reasons” (no, really!) pseudo-apologia (perhaps the most repellant of the whole lot of pundit Iraq War apologies, but I admit I haven’t had the stomach to read them all), wants to get all up in that Syrian Civil War, because America has to Do Something when People Are Dying! It’s the law, dammit! So Richard wrote him a think piece in yesterday’s Post:
Cold-hearted liberals have abandoned Syria
OK, I’m gonna just stop you right there for a second. “To abandon” means “to leave, forsake, desert,” “to give up, discontinue, withdraw from,” “to give up the control of.” All of these concepts require the abandoner to have had some possession of or relationship with the abandonee in order for there to be abandonment. Were these cold-hearted liberals ever involved with Syria in the first place?
A letter to the editor of the New York Times Book Review says it all.
Well, excuse me–I mean, I’m not a professional writer (or anything else, currently) or anything, but a couple of years ago I saw a comment thread on a Huffington Post Celebrity Sideboob piece that was really insightful. Also there was the time when @dingusfire6969 subtweeted some really profound things at David Brooks for the better part of a day. So this letter to the editor might say a lot, but “all”? I don’t think so.
I cite the letter because its author is Norman Birnbaum, a quite distinguished emeritus professor at Georgetown University. In tone and approach, it is very much like a long article in the New York Review of Books by David Bromwich, a professor of English at Yale and yet another prominent liberal. He, too, chides us alleged war-lovers, reminding us of Iraq, where some of us were wrong (guilty) and some duplicitous (not guilty), and offers instruction on the difficulties and complexities of intervention — Shiites, Sunnis, Alawites and all the rest, a veritable casting call for “Lawrence of Arabia.”
One of the hallmarks of the reflexive interventionist is taking a sort of bizarre pride in deliberately not understanding anything about the places in which it wants to intervene. People who oppose intervention and seem to know something about the places in which they would rather not intervene are chided with little snide comments like “a veritable casting call for ‘Lawrence of Arabia.'”
Actually Birnbaum makes one important point in his letter:
Those who so loudly demand action are, almost invariably, academics, politicians and publicists not burdened by experience in the military.
But I digress. Richard Cohen, political pundit for a newspaper, who’s never served in the military and probably has no close friends or immediate family members who are currently serving, was about to explain why the United States must intervene militarily in a civil war in Syria.
Syria was never going to be the Iraq war. It was going to be a humanitarian intervention, an attempt to stop the killing, end the misery — use U.S. power to do good. This was not colonialism or neocolonialism or imposing a repellent Western regime on the always virtuous East. All we wanted — all I wanted — was to end the killing. Only the United States had the wherewithal to do this.
The unrepentant Iraq hawk, and Cohen is absolutely unrepentant no matter what he says, seethes over the fact that Iraq was bungled so badly as to preemptively discredit any foreign adventure that might be proposed in its aftermath. “Our Syrian adventure will have only the purest of motives, not like Iraq!” they insist, as though Bush, Cheney, and their media cheerleaders (Richard Cohen, for one) didn’t make the same claims of humanitarianism and liberating the oppressed about Iraq that Cohen now makes about Syria. The next intervention will always be “different” for somebody like Cohen, who basically just wants to slake his raging addiction to American military power with a little bombing campaign over some Arab country but claims that this next one will only be done for humanitarian reasons, and then gets pissed off when you point out that the last time he said that it turned into a giant clusterfuck.
I’m pretty sure Homer Simpson covered this ground before Richard:
Hey, if you’re going to get mad at me every time I do something stupid, then I guess I’ll just have to stop doing stupid things!
But back to the piece. I’ve almost got my Neo-con Bingo card filled!
In 1933, the Oxford Union debating society approved a resolution saying that it would not fight for its king and country.The resolution was a fair approximation of the British mood at the time, especially among the upper classes. It was a perfectly understandable, yet unforgivable, reaction to the horrendous slaughter of World War I, carnage so great and unprecedented that victory seemed indistinguishable from defeat. With a population of around 40 million, Britain lost some 900,000 men. It won, aside from victory, virtually nothing. The consequence was a pernicious pacifism, which cheered Hitler and infuriated Churchill.
BINGO! Let’s see: knee-jerk criticism of “liberals,” proud ignorance of the suggested place of intervention, a “this time will be different,” an “only the United States can save them,” and a Hitler reference. I win!
Something like that is happening now. The reaction to the Iraq war has produced a there-they-go-again-syndrome, so that a proposed humanitarian intervention is sneeringly dismissed as if the rallying cry is “on to Baghdad.”
The only sneering here is coming from the all-intervention-all-the-time yokels like Cohen. They’re disgusted by the fact that, just because the last poorly-planned, incompetently-executed large-scale American intervention into the Middle East turned out to be a colossal failure, now the damn hippies get to be pains in the ass about even potential poorly-planned, incompetently-executed large-scale American interventions into the Middle East.
More depressing still is the total lack of concern for the misery of Syrians. Rarely do any of these anti-intervention pieces cry bloody murder at the killing that continues apace in Syria. Liberals, once characterized as bleeding hearts, seem now to have none at all. They agonize over the slippery slope, not the horror of mounting civilian deaths.
Bullshit. You can tell it’s bullshit because Richard has to accuse the collective “they” of such inhumane behavior, meaning he can’t find, or can’t be bothered to look for, a single concrete example of this supposedly widespread phenomenon. I can do this too: “Interventionists, despite their talk of ‘saving lives’ and ‘humanitarian goals,’ seem to care far less about the lives being lost than about the perception that America’s image is somehow being tarnished by its inaction.”
I haven’t quoted Cohen’s entire column and I don’t especially recommend reading it, but one thing you won’t find there is any affirmative case for intervention beyond the idea that “early on,” I guess before the hippies dragged their dirty feet about it, the plan was to “arm the moderate rebels, impose a no-fly zone and throw the weight of the United States behind the effort to topple Assad.” Cohen apparently takes it as self-evident that this would have not only gotten rid of Assad but would have left behind a peaceful, stable Syria in which all Syrians could live free and ride their new ponies day and night. Of course, we can’t seem to figure out who the moderate rebels are, the Chairman of the JCS has been saying that a no-fly zone wouldn’t make a difference in the conflict, and the phrase “throw the weight of the United States behind the effort to topple Assad” uses 13 words to say nothing at all. Maybe if Richard spent less time being so mad at the damn hippies for being big mean jerks and accurately remembering what Iraq was like, and more time figuring out what he thinks intervention would or could actually achieve, he might have a prayer of convincing somebody of something. Or he could just keep pulling his hair out over something ridiculously unimportant like “squandering America’s leadership.” Either way–
We have squandered our leadership — actual and moral — and done nothing to save lives. We might have contained a war that is spreading daily. We could at least have tried. It’s been a shameful performance.
Right, the second thing then. On the plus side, if you had “squandered American leadership” on your card, you should check to see if you just made a bingo.