Michael Kinsley’s Futile “Futile War” Column

November 20, 2004

If I understand him correctly (and it is no mean feat to comprehend the liberal mind) Michael Kinsley, in this column. is actually taking a shot at the antiwar crowd (concerning the Iraq War), of which he considers himself a member.

His main complaint seems to be that there is no coherent antiwar movement today — that John Kerry’s meandering positions on the war were largely a result of his antiwar constituency’s uncertainty on what should be done about the war.

The Vietnam-era antiwar movement, says Kinsley, was unequivocally against the war and unequivocally for bringing our troops home. By contrast, the antiwar people today are unequivocally against the war, but ambivalent about whether or when our troops should be withdrawn. Kinsey writes:

Today’s antiwar cause doesn’t even have a movement to speak of, let alone an agenda. It consists of perhaps 47 percent of the citizenry — the ones who voted for John Kerry — who are in some kind of existential opposition to the war but aren’t doing much about it and aren’t very clear about what they would like to see happen. Meanwhile, American soldiers die by the hundreds and Iraqis — military and civilian — by the thousands in a cause these people (and I’m one of them) believe to be a horrible mistake.

As for today’s antiwar movement, Kinsley says:

Most of them deplore the war, but only a tiny fraction favor an immediate pullout. Anyone who opposes the war but isn’t ready to demand peace needs an answer to the question “Why on Earth not?

Kinsley happens to be exactly right about this. I made the same point in one pre-election, Kerry-slamming column: that if Kerry was so sure Iraq is “the wrong war, wrong place, at the wrong time,” he should have been willing to call for an immediate pullout of our troops, at least based on his vaunted antiwar logic concerning Vietnam.

Remember when he (supposedly eloquently) asked Congress “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Well, if Kerry is so sure the Iraq War was a mistake, why would he leave our troops there and allow them to die for a mistake? Or as I put it in my column:

If our military action against Iraq was and is a mistake, Senator, how do you ask a man to be the last man to die (in Iraq) for a mistake? Why not withdraw our troops in four months? Better yet, four weeks? Four days? Four hours?

But Kinsley seems to be upset that his antiwar soul mates aren’t even bothering to question themselves about this apparent inconsistency and come up with some answer for why they’re not demanding that our troops be withdrawn immediately.

Duh. That has been the signature of the anti-Bush movement from the beginning. It has never been self-critical or anxious over it’s lack of coherence. It has been motivated by hatred for President Bush; everything else followed, including its opposition to the war.

So why are they opposed to the war? Because Bush is for it, mainly. Oh yes, most of them are probably antiwar types anyway, but these types don’t often subject themselves to accountability for their misguided positions, including the Vietnam-era antiwar people, who have deluded themselves into believing history has vindicated their antiwar position, when it has done just the opposite. These are the people who wanted us out for humanitarian reasons and predicted no dire consequences on our withdrawal because they trusted the goodwill of the communists. Millions were slaughtered when we pulled out.

Back to the point. Kinsley is still correct that intellectual honesty (and he apparently assumes they possess it) demands that the antiwar movement settle on a reason that it is not loudly demanding withdrawal of our troops in Iraq, though strongly believing the war is and was a mistake. Kinsley even says, “There are answers, possibly even adequate answers.”

He says the answers fall into two categories: one is the “Henry Kissinger answer,” which is that to retain our credibility as a superpower we have to see the war through. Kinsley isn’t too impressed with this one. The other is the “Colin Power answer,” which “goes by the nickname ‘Pottery Barn,’ referring to the alleged policy that the purveyor of yupware that ‘if you break it, you own it.'” Kinsley accords this one a little more legitimacy but says that it shouldn’t apply if all we’re doing is making a bigger mess there.

Well, I don’t think even neocons would argue that we should remain in Iraq if our crystal ball had told us we would end up doing more harm than good to the country by staying. And herein lies a major distinction between antiwar types and conservatives. Since we don’t have crystal balls, we have to make assessments based on the information we have. The antiwar types — who were always opposed to the war — have no stomach for staying the course and are willing to cut and run at the first sign of difficulties. They are the ones who obsess over body counts reaching four figures, as if the 1,000th person to die is dramatically different from the 999th.

I think more realistic people understand that war is hell and that the more reasoned approach is to take the long view of things. It took years before we achieved stability in Europe following WWII. We can’t cut and run at every slightest sign of difficulty. Kinsley’s contention that it is “ironic” that we have just destroyed an entire city (Fallujah)to save it, is off base, and myopic. We aren’t fighting cities in Iraq.

We are fighting murderous terrorists, who in this case happened to be largely operating out of that city. We inevitably caused collateral damage to buildings and infrastructure in routing the terrorists there. But I’ll tell you something: had we been less humane and politically correct, we wouldn’t have telegraphed our attack on the city and we could have annihilated a lot more of the terrorists there — but it would have been at the cost of innocent lives and further collateral damage. We’re trying to avoid damage to cities and civilians, and Kinsley knows it.

These liberal clichés like “we are destroying a nation or a city to save it, ” are so disingenuous. We are fighting these people who are using innocent people and Mosques as shields. We have no choice but to do what we have to do to defeat this enemy. Causing damage to buildings and infrastructure is not our intention. Moreoveer, when we do cause damage, we do our best to repair it, not to mention the damage Saddam caused before we got there.

It is pathetic, really, when Kinsley writes that destroying a village to save it “has become the definitive expression of the macabre futility of war.” This war is not futile, and only will be if we abandon our pursuit of democratizing and stabilizing the country.

What is futile is Kinsley’s lament. While he decries his fellow antiwar crowd for not either demanding our withdrawal or coming up with a plausible reason to stay, he offers neither alternative himself that I can see. And I suspect that’s because, deep down, he has no answers any more than his fellow naysayers do. They are just against the war. Don’t ask them why and don’t ask them what to do about it. And especially don’t ask them to justify their opposition to the war in the first place. Don’t give me this garbage about WMD. Liberals never required such weighty reasons for war before.

Humanitarian reasons, irrespective of America’s national interest, is all it ever takes. And on this point, don’t ask them to explain Saddam’s mass graves. And now that he’s gone, don’t ask them to explain the terrorist beheadings and the beatings and torturing we are now seeing on video tape. Because antiwar liberals are only fair weather humanitarians. And it’s not fair to make them accountable for it.

In effect, what Kinsley seems to be saying is, “we antiwar types are seething over the Iraq War and that Bush won the election despite having started it. We should demand that our troops be withdrawn, but we aren’t. I’m mad that my colleagues aren’t demanding that we withdraw, even though I don’t guess I can figure out whether we should either. I guess we’re just mad and in a funk — and we’re going to stay that way.”

If someone has a better idea of what Kinsley was getting at, I’m all ears.