Tuesday, July 19, 2005

From the Horse's Mouth

When Karl Rove made his comments before the New York Conservative Party contrasting conservative and liberal responses to 9/11, the reaction focused on the ridiculous things he said about liberals:

But perhaps the most important difference between conservatives and liberals can be found in the area of national security. Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 and the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers. In the wake of 9/11, conservatives believed it was time to unleash the might and power of the United States military against the Taliban; in the wake of 9/11, liberals believed it was time to . . . submit a petition. I am not joking.
—and rightly so. It was, first of all, an egregious distortion of history. 9/11 unified the nation as few events ever have. When Congress voted to authorize the President to use military action against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and their allies, liberals were fully on board: there was exactly one nay vote out of 498 (400 in the House, 98 in the Senate). Even Bernard Sanders, Congress’s one self-described Socialist, voted for war.

It occurs to me, however, that despite all the ink that has been spilled over what Rove said about liberals, it's not nearly as interesting as what he was saying about conservatives. White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan had a point (albeit not the one he intended to make) when he said, in defense of Rove, that he had merely been "pointing out the different philosophies when it comes to winning the war on terrorism." If Rove was maliciously mischaracterizing the liberal viewpoint, well, that's something we've come to expect these days, and it's particularly unsurprising coming from Rove. But he was also describing the conservative position, and we have every right to expect that the conservative Rove, speaking before a conservative audience, actually got this one right. The fact that Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, saw fit to issue an immediate press release of quotations from liberals meant to back up what he called "Karl Rove’s statement of historical fact", tends to support the interpretation that Rove was speaking for conservatives (and Republicans generally).

So what is Rove's message about conservatives? It's all about the rage:

I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt as I watched the Twin Towers crumble to the earth; a side of the Pentagon destroyed; and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble.

Moderation and restraint is not what I felt - and moderation and restraint is not what was called for. It was a moment to summon our national will - and to brandish steel.
I, too, remember how I felt watching the towers fall, over and over and over, on national television that day. First there was disbelief. Then, as the reality and enormity of the attacks sank in, horror and fury. I wanted to strike back hard at whoever had done this. To do to them what we had done to Japan after Pearl Harbor—or worse.

I don't know if any American felt moderation and restraint on that day. But one of the hallmarks of maturity is (or should be) that we don't make decisions, particularly important ones, ones with life-or-death consequences, in the heat of the moment. There's a reason we teach our children to count to ten when they're angry: decisions made in anger are often repented of at leisure. Usually, lashing out blindly is not the best response.

Rove is not the first Bush Administration spokesman to play the "how we felt" card; around the second anniversary of 9/11, John Ashcroft suggested that critics of the Patriot Act "may have forgotten how we felt that day"—as though the immediate emotional turmoil of 9/11 somehow trumps all other concerns.

Now Rove tells us that "moderation and restraint" was not what was called for in the wake of 9/11. Thanks to Mehlman's helpful press release, we can even get some idea of what brand of "moderation and restraint" Rove was objecting to in the petition he ridiculed:

We Implore The Powers That Be To Use, Wherever Possible, International Judicial Institutions And International Human Rights Law To Bring To Justice Those Responsible For The Attacks, Rather Than The Instruments Of War, Violence Or Destruction [Emphasis Mine; Odd And Distracting Overuse Of Capital Letters Mehlman's].
[W]e demand that there be no recourse to nuclear, chemical or biological weapons, or any weapons of indiscriminate destruction, and feel that it is our inalienable human right to live in a world free of such arms [ahhh, that's better].
The suggestion seems to be this: conservatives reject the idea that war should be undertaken only after all other options fail (despite the fact that President Bush himself paid lip service to it during the runup to the war in Iraq), or that the United States should forswear the use of weapons of mass destruction hundreds of times as deadly as the 9/11 attacks (the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, mere toys compared to today's nuclear weaponry, killed an estimated 350,000 people).

Equally abhorrent to conservatives is the idea that military action may not be the only, or even the best, way to address the terrorist threat. Rove objects that liberals, rather than planning a rush to war, "wanted to prepare indictments". Mehlman's press release quotes a paragraph from The Bubble of American Supremacy by liberal financier George Soros:

War is a false and misleading metaphor in the context of combating terrorism. Treating the attacks of September 11 as crimes against humanity would have been more appropriate. Crimes require police work, not military action. To protect against terrorism, you need precautionary measures, awareness, and intelligence gathering – all of which ultimately depend on the support of the populations among which terrorists operate. Imagine for a moment that September 11 had been treated as a crime. We would have pursued Bin Laden in Afghanistan, but we would not have invaded Iraq. Nor would we have our military struggling to perform police work in full combat gear and getting killed in the process [emphasis mine].

Never mind that the way the Iraq situation has played out has made Soros look particularly prescient, or that arch-liberal Soros was also on board for the invasion of Afghanistan. Never mind that President Bush himself opted for war only after the Taliban ignored "the U.S. demand, delivered by Pakistan, that bin Laden be handed over to stand trial for the September 11 terrorist attacks". (Wouldn't that have involved, say, "preparing indictments"?)

Ignore all that. The "war against terrorism" is unlike all other wars because terrorism is not a state, can't be surrounded or invaded, and can't surrender. Is it possible that war might not be the answer to the terrorist threat, and that we would have been better off if we had, as Soros suggests, worked cooperatively with the rest of the world to bring the perpetrators of 9/11 to justice? We'll never know. And according to Karl Rove, we shouldn't even bring it up. Because we felt like war on 9/11, before we even had a chance to think about it. Emotion trumps all.

This, according to Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, is the spirit of conservatism and the Republican Party today. And I suppose they should know.