Walsh, the Salon.com political editor who appears often on MSNBC with Chris
Matthews, is emblematic, for me, of a type I know all too well: the well-meaning
Bay Area liberal. Her politics exemplify the psychology
of our opinion elites who got behind Barack Obama in a big way. Exuding reasonableness
from every pore, she radiates a kind of diffuse benevolence modified only by
a slight wrinkling of the brow – a measure of her concern
that someone, somewhere, is suffering from an overlooked injustice. As President
Obama takes on the burden of office, and, in the process, sheds
his campaign promises like yesterday's
fashions, it's fascinating to observe the reaction of his most ardent supporters,
of which it is fair to say Ms. Walsh is one.
In a recent
review of Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks' recent tome, The
Gamble, Walsh suddenly discovers that the "surge"
in Iraq was a success, and berates herself for ever having opposed it. General
Petraeus, the architect of the Bush administration's newly aggressive – albeit
"smart" – strategy, is portrayed as an heroic innovator, who ignored
liberal critics like herself – and MoveOn.org, to whom she delivers a gentle
slap for famously calling him "General
Betray-us." Against all these liberal voices, Petraeus, she avers,
went on to achieve an "inspiring" victory over the forces of Darkness
in Iraq. Walsh contrasts a picture of an "incompetent" war, waged
by Bushian "knaves and buffoons," to one that deserves admiration
if not quite whole-hearted support on account of the men who lead it: Petraeus,
retired Gen. Jack Keane,
and Gen. Raymond Odierno. Commander-in-chief Obama goes unmentioned, but you
get the idea.
In any case, you have a "responsibility" to read the Ricks book,
Walsh avers, in order to "have some of your prejudices challenged."
It's a "prejudice," you see – not a considered opinion – that the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan should never have been launched to begin
with, no matter how "smart" the strategy employed nor how "inspiring"
The Petraeus clique, we are told, was "appalled" by Abu
Ghraib and other
abuses, because it widened the insurgency and backfired in our faces: perhaps
their objections didn't quite attain the high moral tone of liberal concerns,
but, heck, the result was the same. In any event, Petraeus and his co-thinkers
launched "their own insurgency," says Walsh, to wrest "control
of the disastrous war as it spiraled out of control in 2006."
Heaven forfend that the Americans should lose control of their
conquered province – or of anything, for that matter. Liberal,
conservative, left or right, when you're talking about America, it
really makes no difference – Yankee arrogance is a well-nigh universal
trait no matter where one sits on the political spectrum.
The real clue as to where Walsh's sympathies lie is her description
of the Brave New Strategy of Petraeus and his confreres:
"In a near-complete strategic turnaround, surge adherents argued
that the way to victory was not killing as many Iraqis as possible but
protecting them, building alliances by respecting Iraqi culture and
One imagines a contingent of US soldiers showing
up in a village and announcing: "We're from the government, and we're
here to help you!"
It is the domestic mantra
of the Obama administration transferred to the international scene. What could
make a Bay Area liberal happier?
Yes, but what about ostensible liberal opposition to the war, and to the interventionist
policies of the previous administration? Well, that's not so important anymore,
except to wild-eyed radicals
"If you were a fan of MoveOn's "General Betray Us" ad – I was not
– you might have a hard time with Ricks' high praise for Petraeus'
counterinsurgency planning and execution. He doesn't idealize Petraeus,
he shows us his ambition and quotes skeptics and critics, but it's hard
not to come away admiring what the controversial general accomplished
in just two years. I had a harder time with the way Ricks lionized Gen.
Jack Keane and his friends at American Enterprise Institute, the neocon
think tank partly responsible for the disastrous Iraq war. I remember
making fun of AEI's color-coded, Google-mapped surge sales brochure
back in 2006, as well as its "neighborhood watch"
approach to pacifying Iraq. It was tough for me to believe that one set
of plans hatched at AEI destroyed Iraq, while another might begin to
MoveOn is dissed as a collection of ill-mannered malcontents, while AEI,
the War Party's high command, is praised as a bastion of healers. The mind reels.
Not since the breaking of the Hitler-Stalin pact, and the overnight
transformation of America's fellow travelers from opponents of war to brazen
jingoes, have we seen the likes of this.
According to Walsh, the new policy, spearheaded by Petraeus, is more "realistic."
Gone are the effusive paeans to implanting
democracy in the arid Middle Eastern soil, replaced by promises of eventual
"Ricks thinks Petraeus stated the new goals to the House Foreign
Affairs Committee in April 2008: ‘We're not after Jeffersonian
democracy. We're after conditions that would let our soldiers
We're there so we can leave. True enough – in Bizarro
And here I thought I'd heard it all. Although, on second thought, haven't we heard this somewhere before?
Ah yes, now I remember: it was during the Vietnam war, when Lyndon
Baines Johnson (and, later, Richard
Nixon), rationalized the prosecution of a futile conflict waged under false
pretenses on the grounds that we had to stabilize the South Vietnamese government
as a prelude to drawing down troop levels.
Yes, those were the bad old days when the Democrats were prosecuting an unpopular
war, and the President of the United States was daily met with taunts of "Hey,
hey, LBJ – how many kids did you kill today?"
Those days, I'm afraid, seem to have returned, complete with Hubert
Humphrey-style liberals of the Joan Walsh mode defending the administration
against its Republican critics:
"Petraeus' restraint makes Sen. John McCain sound deranged when,
during the presidential campaign, he promised we were on the verge in
Iraq of gaining ‘a strong, stable, democratic ally against terrorism
and a strong ally against an aggressive and radical Iran.'"
Oh, those wild
and crazy Republicans! The war aims of the new administration are much more
modest: occupation lite.
It's astonishing how quickly this administration's supporters have taken up
the cudgels in defending Obama's war. Although perhaps Walsh did not choose
the title of her piece, surely the editors of Salon.com – the quintessential
avatars of white-wine-and-brie liberalism – know what they're about: "This
war is our war."
It sure is, and it's amazing how well it suits them – the role of
apologists for mass murder and military occupation, that is.
Throughout her article, Walsh keeps insisting she still wants US troops out
of Iraq, and disagrees with Ricks' conclusion that we must stay until
2015. Yet before she's done the very concept of withdrawal begins to blur,
in her mind, as it will in the minds of countless
Obama-ites who will defend this administration ‘til the cows come home:
"Appraising the difference between my conclusions and Ricks' at the
end of ‘The Gamble,' I found myself thinking about the old adage, 'Where you
stand depends on where you sit.' Ricks spent a lot of time sitting in (and courageously
running around) Iraq and American military bases, admiring and respecting the
courage and intelligence of the men and women who've turned this mess around
as best they can, and he understandably doesn't want their work to be in vain.
I'm sitting in my office in California, where teachers and other public workers
are facing furloughs and layoffs, and poverty, homelessness and crime are on
the rise. So I still want troops out of Iraq as soon as possible. But reading
this well-reported book may have changed even my notion of what that means."
Walsh may be for getting out of Iraq, but she considers this a
"prejudice" – after all, where you stand depends on where you sit.
Everything's relative. Ricks may be right, for all we know. Why didn't
AEI's plan for the surge turn out to be "healing"? And what does
getting out of Iraq really mean, anyway? As Walsh puts it: "A
lot depends on the meaning of 'leave' – as well as on the meaning of
the term 'combat troops.'"
When you stop being a journalist, and start being an apologist for
the regime, words cease to have any real meaning. They become a means
to evade, not clarify, to flee from truth rather than reveal it. As
Orwell put it:
"Modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out
words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to
make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips
of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and
making the results presentable by sheer humbug."
Sheer humbug is what animates the Joan Walsh Syndrome, an ideological illness
that has become pandemic among liberals since inauguration day, 2009. While
Walsh is crying real tears over those overpaid, under-worked, and all too numerous
"public workers" who have
to take off two
days a month without pay, 17,000 American "public workers"
– the kind that come armed with guns and bombs – are being sent to Afghanistan
by the One. About that she has nothing to say.
in Salon, Walsh defends the Obama administration on another front: its apparent
policy of continuing
the Bushian (and Clintonian) practice of "rendition," i.e. sending
"war on terror" detainees to a country that will surely subject them
to torture. Obama's CIA will also, in certain instances, employ "enhanced
interrogation techniques" of the sort employed by the KGB
and the Gestapo.
Walsh argues that, although the administration has stated what they might do,
they haven't quite done it yet, and so never mind. This is a variation of the
"give Obama a chance" argument – after all, he doesn't really mean
it. It is also an indication of how quickly intellectual and moral corruption
sets it the moment one becomes a servant of Power.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
If you go to the front page, you'll see what looks
to be our final appeal to our readers to rescue
Antiwar.com from oblivion. I don't have a lot to add to that: it's an appeal
that clearly speaks for itself. I would only add that, unlike the suddenly silenced
body of liberal "antiwar" opinion, we at Antiwar.com have plenty to
say about Obama's war, and we are determined to say it no matter what the cost.
Antiwar liberals, libertarians, and conservatives whose eyes are beginning to
open need to speak out – and make sure the voices of dissent aren't quelled
in the age of Obama, where "unity" for its own sake is loudly insisted
on. To heck with "unity": US Out of Iraq and Afghanistan! Bring all
our troops home now.