Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Straw Liberals Strike Again, Will They Ever Stop Blaming America First (If they Ever Actually Begin To Exist)?

Mark Bowden, author of Black Hawk Down, had an opinion piece on Morning Edition this morning in which he gave a pre-emtive strike against those darn liberals who are making excuses for Iran. Apparently, liberals who used to care about freedom and human dignity when the threats were inside of the country, no longer do, according to Bowden, when the threats are from outside the country. They just want to blame America first.

Bowden is perfectly willing to grant that overthrowing the elected government of Iran and installing a dictator friendly to US interests, but unfriendly to the actual Iranian people in 1953 may be something that our Persian friends might have a wee grudge about. But, he argues, they should get over it because Jimmy Carter asked the Shah to liberalize his government and not act overly inhumanely against protesters before the Revolution. We helped the Revolution. They should have thanked us instead of taking our diplomats hostage.

But the fact that they did take hostages, in addition to violating the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, shows, according to Bowden, that they have little regard for decency and rule of law. And he can't understand why liberals are taking their side. So here, before the coming war in Iran, we need to establish that liberals are for some unknown reason excusing the unjust "bad behavior" of Iran's government and blaming America for anything that might have happened, being happening, or will happen in the region.

The "blame America first" line is cute. Let's see how it works. Someone in the world does something that is either immoral, illegal, or counter to US interests. Folks on the left point to the broader historical/geo-political context of the situation and how our foreign policy contributed to the situation, the right then argues that the left is exonerating the offending government of any wrong-doing and placing all of the blame on the United States, thereby justifying the immoral, illegal, or undesirable act.

There are two moving parts to this gambit that we need to take apart. First is the classic trap of limiting the scope of discussion. We discussed this move with respect to the conservative "personal responsibility" argument a while back, and it is the same exact trick. The idea is to limit what can be discussed in the context of the issue at hand. In the case of personal responsibility, all sociological facts are eliminated from the discussion and a naive folk psychology of absolute freedom it presumed. In the "blame America first" version, the geo-political background that plays a clear causal role in explaining the action is eliminated.

What conservatives get from this move is (1) the ability to portray the US as an innocent victim and (2) the ability to portray the offending party as irrational, evil, or both. If we limit discussion to eliminate any mention of how we helped set the table for this action, then our hands are clean and any actions we may take are purely in the name of "democracy," "human rights," "women's rights," or some other thing that we can trap liberals by putting on the table, albeit disingenuously. Additionally, we create a clear case of black and white. It is the Lone Ranger riding in to defeat the bad guys who are bad for no other reason than they wear black hats. The storyline is simple, clean, and justifies any messiness that includes shooting bad guys or accidentally shooting by-standers while aiming at bad guys.

Bowden, in making this move, does something that most conservatives don't, he actually admits that a historical context exists and this is to his credit. What he tries to do is defuse it with mitigating historical factors. Unfortunately, pointing to Jimmy Carter's suggestions to the Shah in his last days is like saying to a victim that you shouldn't be angry at me because when my brother and I mugged you, I convinced him to only shoot you in the leg when we took your wallet.

The other piece of the move is a classic case of false alternatives. By saying that the US bears some responsibility for the situation is not to excuse the actions of anyone else. If my brother and I were arrested for the above (fictional) mugging, I am not innocent just because he is guilty. Just because the US acted wrongly does not mean that Iran is acting rightly. Liberals are not blaming America first, we are blaming America also.

We believe that Santayana was correct when he said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" and what we see in conservative foreign policy is the desire to not only repeat the errors, but magnify them. "No, the problem was that we only stuck ONE fork in the electric socket. Let's try three this time."

Americans have a very poor grasp on even recent history and the background behind why people think about us in the way they do. We had a national teachable moment after 9/11 when the question, "Why do they hate us?" was authentically asked by Americans all over the nation. Instead of taking that as a time for candor, honest reflection, and deep thought about the bunker mentality of the Cold War, a point from which we could have ushered in from our time of horrible tragedy a new era of enlightened global unity, we were given a strawman. "They hate us for our freedom." A strawman that could be used to take us back into the bunker, back into a new Cold War, back into a situation in which we could be not a leader, but a power -- only this time, drooled the PNAC cabal, without a Soviet Union to stand in our way of complete global domination.

Liberals do not hate America, but we do blame America when America is to blame. When one is young and has crushes on pretty girls, a young man is willing to fight even his best friend for saying anything bad about the object of his affection, especially if it's true. When one is older and in love, one is willing to understand the ways in which the object of one's mature care is flawed. Liberals love their country, conservatives lust for it.