Monday, July 16, 2007

Not Ready to Make Nice

Credit: Sharon Mollerus Licensed Creative Comons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0

We rented the "Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing" on DVD last week, and by coincidence, at just about the same time I ran across evidence of the evolution of people on the opposite side: advocates for the Iraq war.

Consider David Warren, perhaps the most strident of the Canadian backers of the war in Iraq; he generally gets credited with the "flypaper" justification for occupying Iraq. Four years ago, in high indignation over Jean Chretien's refusal to participate in Iraq, Mr. Warren had this to say:

...this New Canada that makes me heartsick as it does several millions of my fellow Canadians -- that fills us with such a deep sense of shame.... This Canada that despatched its few remaining available soldiers hurriedly to peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan as a kind of insurance in case the Americans asked for help. ("Sorry! We gave at the office.")

Over the next three and a half years, Canada went through two elections, the second of which brought in a Conservative party government. Through those three and a half years, the Canadian government remained fully committed to the mission in Afghanistan the Chretien government had first signed on for in 2002. But as Iraq sank into chaos and failure, as American casualties mounted and ten percent of Iraq's population fled, Canada stayed resolutely clear of any involvement with the "coalition of the willing". In November 2006, David Warren wrote this:

With a few gracious exceptions, such as Britain, Australia, Poland -- and Canada, rather late in the day -- the West has watched America defend our common vital interests, alone.... I am, on balance, ashamed of the hesitant and scrounging support my own countrymen have given our American allies.

Last week, he had this to say about the Canadian dead coming home from Afghanistan:

...we are a nation, and when they send our boys back from Afghanistan in boxes, it doesn’t matter what our politics are. We stand with them and for them, and we salute them, for they were our bravest and best.

When did Canada's commitment to Afghanistan change from a poor excuse to avoid helping the Americans in Iraq to a noble cause? And more important, why does it matter?

Let us try another example: consider Dan Riehl's argument in favor of Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq.

...we have engaged a ruthless enemy in a generational conflict that only the naive thought would be over in a few years, or go precisely as planned at its beginning.

I wonder if Riehl considers the multitude of US officials who confidently predicted a short war, a "cakewalk", before the invasion of Iraq among the naive, and whether the presence of so many naive policy makers in the Bush administration has helped lead to the current sorry state of Iraq. But, again, what do we accomplish by holding the proponents of the Iraq war to account for the disconnect between what they said then and what they say now, or for the contradictions between what they say and reality?

I think it matters that we hold the advocates for the war in Iraq accountable, simply to make the point that reality always wins. Politicians, whatever they want to believe, cannot order up the truth to suit themselves, and when they ignore the actual situation in favor of the things they and their constituents prefer to believe, they incur a high cost, which someone else often has to pay. Holding people accountable doesn't mean stocks and dunces caps in the public square; still less does it mean denying the very real arguments about the iniquities of Saddam Hussein that people sincerely advanced in the run-up to the war in Iraq. It does mean not accepting nonsense and not listening to absurdities in silence. It means always keeping in mind the difference between forgiving the people who pushed so hard for a disastrous war, and condoning their arrogance and thoughtlessness.

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