It’s 9/11, there is another drumbeat for war with Iraq, and the neoconservatives are everywhere telling us we must make the same mistakes they helped us make a decade earlier. This raises the question, why does anyone care what they have to say? Jonathan Chait wrote a very good article about the neoconservative reaction to the threat from ISIS, Dick Cheney and the Neocons Would Like to Celebrate This 9/11 by Freaking Out Over Iraq Again. Before Chait has a chance to write a corresponding article about people like me on the other side of the question, I thought I would run through his insights and see if there is anything there worth thinking about.
His intensions were not to explain why the neoconservatives act as they do, but only to describe the basis of their arguments. There are four aspects. First, there is the focus on being “serious” in response to the threat. Second, there is an apocalyptic assessment of the threat. Third, there is the blurring or complete erasure of the distinctions between various parties. And fourth, there is the dismissal of the possibility that anything bad might happen because of overreaction; the only threat comes from not reacting enough.
What’s especially interesting about this is the focus of on “seriousness.” The truth is that their ideas are deeply unserious. The overall vision is this: we should go to war with everyone we don’t like in the region because ISIS is an existential threat to us and the only thing that might hurt us is if we don’t act right now with overwhelming force. Last night, Ted Cruz went on Fox News and said that there is a threat that ISIS is coming through the Mexico border, even though when pressed he admitted that there were no credible indications that this was happening.
What this all reminds me of is Malcolm Nance’s observation of the neocons at the State Department under Bush after 9/11 and their desire for “Tom Clancy Combat Concepts”:
They came out and just started reading these books and magazines and start thinking, “We’re going to be hard, we’re going to do these things, we’re going to go out and start popping people on the streets and we’re going to start renditioning people.” The decision makers were almost childlike in wanting to do high, Dungeons and Dragons, you know, dagger and intrigue all the time.
The key word in that description is “childlike.” It’s like a game to these people. This is why the major neoconservatives are chicken hawks. They have to be. They can’t understand anything about real war. And they don’t understand what Karl von Clausewitz laid out 200 years ago, although the idea is far older than that, “War is not merely a political act but a real political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, a carrying out of the same by other means.”
What’s amazing is how the media take all this posturing as serious enough for coverage. What the neocons offer in terms of policy is far less serious than what the Quakers offers on the other side: war is always wrong. Yet no major news outlet thinks that the Quaker take on geopolitics needs to be considered. In fact, even people of my persuasion who think that war should be the last option are not considered serious enough for much coverage. Instead, the “liberal” response to any problem is just to drop bombs on people, which is still, you know, war.
I know what the media would say about this. People like Cheney and Cruz running around doing their Chicken Little routine has to be covered. They are obviously passionate about the threat they see, even if it is not a substantial threat. But these same media apologists don’t seem to think that the far larger group of people who are worried about global warming need to be given a huge amount of coverage.
I doubt that anyone seriously thinks that the neoconservatives have any credibility at this point. But the media have a vested interest in pushing for war. It’s good for ratings. Getting everyone worried about global warming would only result in policy and, you know, people working to fix the problem. But Cheney and company running around frightening the nation would result in super cool war footage that would likely go on for years.