Friday, June 29, 2007

"Defeatist" Smear Is Indefensible

An hour ago, blogger N.Z. Bear e-mailed his Rightblogs ListServ to decry "defeatist rhetoric" about Iraq. Here's what he wrote (reprinted with permission):

We must use whatever power we have to ensure that our wobbly political class doesn't rob the troops in the field of the chance to win. That doesn't mean blind obedience to the administration's position, but it does mean combating the defeatist rhetoric that is now beginning to come from even Republican corners.

I asked N.Z. if by "defeatist rhetoric" he means that there are no honest arguments for any form of withdrawal? He responded as follows:

Not at all. But when people say thin[g]s (a la Harry Reid) like "the war is lost," I'd call that defeatist. And I'd call [Senator] Lugar's recent call for withdrawal because he thinks the surge isn't working—after mere weeks—defeatist as well.

I'm open to being convinced that we've lost the war and have been defeated. But I've yet to see any genuinely serious arguments to that end...

Without wading into the question of whether the U.S. has been "defeated" in Iraq (I prefer to ask if our presence there is worthwhile?), I strongly object to the word "defeatist," because it implies that anyone who isn't Cheney-esque about the war is actually hoping for an American defeat. People can reasonably disagree about our prospects for victory, but to impugn the motives of those with whom you disagree in this way is vicious and vacuous.

I'll leave the last words to Senator Chuck Hagel:

I am not, nor any member of Congress that I'm aware of, Tim, is advocating defeat. That's ridiculous, and I'm offended that any responsible member of Congress or anyone else would even suggest such a thing.

Update: N.Z. responds:

My quick response, for the record, is that "defeatist rhetoric" doesn't necessarily mean the speaker wishes for defeat—it means that the rhetoric itself makes it more likely that we will be defeated (by encouraging our enemy / discouraging ourselves). I'm not interested in or trying to attack someone[']s motives or inner feelings—I'm interested in the results of their actions.

That of course doesn't mean I never want to hear anything bad said about the war, but I expect that if someone like a U.S. Senator is going to say something bad, that it should be clearly based in fact and constructive. (Reid and Lugar's comments both fail that test in my mind.)

This is an important distinction, but it leaves a couple questions:

1. What about Lugar's critique is un-factual and unconstructive? Here's what he said: "The president has the opportunity now to bring about a bipartisan foreign policy. I don’t think he’ll have that option very long.”

(Lugar added, “Those who offer constructive criticism of the surge strategy are not defeatists, any more than those who warn against a precipitous withdrawal are militarists.”)

2. What is the responsibility of a member of a Congress who strongly believes the war is lost? If he speaks out, then, according to N.Z., he hurts the troops. But if he holds his breath, he betrays his conscience and surrenders leadership. Note: now that we're more than four years into the war, the usual answer—that he should express his disagreement in private—is obsolete.