Saturday, August 20, 2005

The allure of abstraction to an armchair general

Jonathan Chait makes an tortured argument in yesterday's LA Times about Cindy Sheehan and moral authority in debating war. Obviously, Chait, as a columnist, feels he needs to defend the merits of research and calm rationality over lived experience. Unfortunately, he just shows how many war supporters, both in the administration and the right wing of the Democratic Party, have turned the arguments about the war into abstractions.
...Liberal blogs are filled with attacks on "chicken hawk" conservatives who support the war but never served in the military. A recent story in the antiwar magazine Nation attacked my New Republic editor, Peter Beinart, a supporter of the Iraq war, for having "no national security experience," as if Nation editors routinely served in the Marine Corps.

The silliness of this argument is obvious. There are parents of dead soldiers on both sides. Conservatives have begun trotting out their own this week. What does this tell us about the virtues or flaws of the war? Nothing.
The silliness of Chait's argument is obvious to me. If you don't see dead soldiers and their families' grief as a valid flaw of the war, then you have hopelessly distanced yourself from what you are debating. This seems to be what has happened to the President and his administration, and it is why the chickenhawk argument is perfectly valid.

As the president has said, a major goal of the war in Iraq was to turn that country into the central front of the war on terror (To move the violence farther away from Washington, D.C.; to keep the ball on "their" end of the field--to use the kind of sports metaphor the administration is so fond of).

To have this as a stated reason for war undermines the administration's purported goal of "liberating" the Iraqi people. At the very least, it shows a callous indifference to their suffering, as well as an indifference to the suffering of U.S. soldiers and their families.