Monday, October 29, 2007

Profiles in cowardice

As I walked down Broadway in the pouring rain on Saturday, marching with somewhere between 10,000 and 45,000 others to protest the ongoing US military action in Iraq, I talked with one of my fellow peace-loving patriots about the next Bush Administration debacle. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wasn’t in my little group, but he might as well have been.

In his Monday commentary, Krugman slices and dices the current crop of fearmongers running around trying to gin up a war with Iran—especially neocon Svengali Norman Podhoretz and his favorite Trilby, Rudy Giuliani.

Rudy Giuliani is taking foreign policy advice from Norman Podhoretz, who wants us to start bombing Iran “as soon as it is logistically possible.”

Mr. Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary and a founding neoconservative, tells us that Iran is the “main center of the Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11.” The Islamofascists, he tells us, are well on their way toward creating a world “shaped by their will and tailored to their wishes.” Indeed, “Already, some observers are warning that by the end of the 21st century the whole of Europe will be transformed into a place to which they give the name Eurabia.”

Do I have to point out that none of this makes a bit of sense?

For one thing, there isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination. The term came into vogue only because it was a way for Iraq hawks to gloss over the awkward transition from pursuing Osama bin Laden, who attacked America, to Saddam Hussein, who didn’t. And Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 — in fact, the Iranian regime was quite helpful to the United States when it went after Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.

Beyond that, the claim that Iran is on the path to global domination is beyond ludicrous. Yes, the Iranian regime is a nasty piece of work in many ways, and it would be a bad thing if that regime acquired nuclear weapons. But let’s have some perspective, please: we’re talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of Connecticut, and a government whose military budget is roughly the same as Sweden’s.

It is that last point, especially, that resonates re: my rain-soaked rant from the weekend. While Krugman lays out the case against the Republican’s running for president, the same evidence is as damning for the current residents of the West Wing and the OEOB (or some undisclosed bunker). Calling a country like Iran a direct threat to the existence of the United States is, as Krugman’s relatives call it, “crazy talk,” and going on like that from the bully pulpit of the presidency is, at the least, irresponsible.

But, then again, Bush and Cheney have never been big on responsibility, have they?

It is, of course, beyond irresponsible. In the terms put forward by Krugman, it is also likely cynical. Framing it, as he does, with FDR’s apt admonition that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, Krugman accuses the Republicans of fearmongering, and, by easy inference, racism.

But I’m willing to give those so funhouse-mirror-large and in charge the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say, just for the hell of it, that Bush, Cheney, Giuliani, Podhoretz, et al., are not cynical; let’s say that the fear that they broadcast is the fear that’s inside. Let’s say that all of these men are really afraid. Very, very afraid.

That the men who control, or seek to control, the full economic and military might of the United States are so desperate to risk what is left of US credibility or regional stability on a showy and likely ineffective air war against a country as small as Krugman details shows these men to be cowards—and “cowards” was the word I was using while marching on Saturday.

Sure, I also believe that these neo-conmen are cynical bastards, but I guess I can’t help but feel that given the craziness and cravenness, some of that cynicism is rooted in cowardice. For, as it has gone down, altering the course and progress of the entire country because of one day’s criminal act, as tragic and terrifying as it was, makes us as a nation appear weak. The need to unleash our expensive and mechanized dogs of war on millions of innocents, killing hundreds of thousands, in order to convince others of the superiority of our way of life, makes our ideals appear weaker. The Republicans (and a few Democrats, too) that cynically like to wrap themselves in the flag are, quite frankly, cowering behind it.

I would like to believe that America is tougher than that. I would like to believe that as a society we are stronger, and that our ideals are more attractive. I would like to believe that we can do better. And, though I don’t often think of myself as a “patriot,” that, to my mind, is patriotism.

The Republicans that offer us cynical and cowardly crazy talk are espousing something else—rather than appeal to the better angels of our nature, they exploit and expose some of our most devilish flaws.

If there were an ideology we could label “terrorist”—that is pretty much how I would describe it.

(PS Yes, I admit it, I have used this headline before.)

(cross-posted to The Seminal and Daily Kos)

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