The Home Front

Do we have to hate America in order to get out of Iraq? Two new titles provide a perspective.

The worst thing about Bush? By far? He's forced me to hang out with liberals. Oh, sure, there's the war, the torture, the shredding of the Constitution, yadda, yadda, yadda. But these all pale next to the atrocity of meetings. Howard Dean on speakerphone in a cold basement. Birkenstock-clad activists listening raptly. No booze in sight. It wasn't always like this. I used to keep a copy of Ann Coulter's Slander on my desk just to piss people off (she is actually pretty funny, by the way). Mocking liberal pieties was fun. That was before all the most lurid, paranoid visions of the left came to pass. "On every substantive point, the antiwar movement has turned out to be right," says Anthony Arnove in Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal (New Press, $19.95). Yes, OK, antiwar movement, you were right. Even with your unfortunate fashion sense and disregard for logic. ("War IS Terrorism," according to all those bumper stickers. Really? So, was George Washington a terrorist? Lincoln? FDR?) Not only were you right, you need all the help you can get, especially from cynical sideline standers like me. Because in another 20 years, my daughter—just like German children once asked, "Daddy, what did you do during the war?"—may want to know what I did during the Bush II era. Fortunately, Arnove doesn't seem to hate logic at all. He sets up and knocks down with ruthless efficiency all the reasons for staying in Iraq (though most are fish in Cheney's barrel). With the occupation creating ever more suicide bombers and victims, the neocons' antiterrorism argument makes a particularly juicy target. The only argument against immediate withdrawal that matters, because it's the only one that isn't obvious bunk, is that we would be abandoning Iraq to hopeless chaos—more blood on our hands. Even my close friends at MoveOn think it would be criminally negligent for us not to clean up our mess. Arnove's rebuttal is that the U.S. has proved itself too corrupt and incompetent for the job. That's actually, um . . . that's actually pretty compelling. But at its heart, this position reflects what Rush Limbaugh and company like to call the left's impulse to Blame America First. In taking aim at the idea that the U.S. is exceptional in world history, a shining city on the hill, Arnove overshoots the mark: Sure we're exceptional—exceptionally evil in our murderous imperialism. Never mind our democracy (no matter how flawed), our Bill of Rights, and the Voting Rights Act; in the eyes of Arnove (and his mentors Zinn and Chomsky), it's all bad, everything is our fault. His description of Iraq under U.S.-led sanctions leaves out any mention whatsoever of Saddam's role in the matter. The thing is, our ideals, if not always our actions, are indeed inspiring— exceptionally inspiring, even—to people around the world who long for freedom. Just ask the Chinese students who built that papier-mâché Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square, and whose leaders later took refuge on our freedom-loving shores. (And, by the way, it's a failure of the left that talking about our freedom- loving shores is associated exclusively with right-wing assholes.) Also missing the big picture is 10 Excellent Reasons Not to Join the Military (New Press, $14.95), edited by Elizabeth Weill- Greenberg. Which, to be fair, is not its purpose. A counterpropaganda pamphlet aimed at potential recruits, it is meant only to offset the military's PR machine with some sobering facts. All 10 reasons are indeed excellent (No. 1: You might get killed; No. 6: You may be lied to). On the individual level, joining the military is a terrible decision. And a lot of recruiters are lying scumbags. But, like it or not, we collectively need a military. The peaceful blue skies above Queen Anne on a spring day, our double-short soy lattes, the cozy used bookstores we love to poke around in on rainy days—all possible only because we are protected by the military. A military financed by the mighty capitalist engines of prosperity. Sorry. I wish it weren't true, but there it is. Weill-Greenberg and her contributors (including Cindy Sheehan) never face the fact that if this book were completely successful, and recruitment dropped to zero, we would be truly fucked. Oh, how I dream of the day I can go back to arguing with leftists about the subtle contradictions like this in their worldview, and making fun of their inane bumper stickers. But in the meantime, the evil chimp is apparently brewing up another unnecessary war, and I better get back down with my MoveOn buddies in that goddamn basement.

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