Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Warmonger Within -- Part 2

"So happy to hear this, dear boy. Welcome aboard."

Hitchens was surprised, but enthused. Finally, after countless e-mailed exhortations, I'd fully come around. I was on the right side of history. I was down with the Good Fight.

I had never supported a U.S. military action before, so the feeling was a little odd, but nothing I couldn't overcome. There was a weird, sick rush to the whole thing, as though I had waited my entire life to cut loose and cheer on the cruise missiles. And now I could, and did.

As I've said, the attack on New York woke up the younger, gung-ho soldier within me, and eventually he took full control of my senses. But there was also Ahmed Rashid's book "Taliban," perhaps the most damning portrayal of those theocratic thugs and their al-Qaeda "guests" that I had read. The Taliban were not the Vietnamese, nor the Sandinistas, nor the African National Congress. They were backward, brutal, and intolerant; they enslaved Afghan women and executed them for the tiniest infraction; they wanted to drag an already poor and devastated country further into the past, to the 7th century, if possible. I began to appreciate what the Soviet Red Army had tried to accomplish back in the day, and now I believed that the U.S. military would finish the job and put these gangsters permanently out of business.

Hitchens' pro-war pieces and private arguments helped to complete my transition, and when I decided that not only would I push for this war, but would do so in hostile company, I phoned Hitch to once again receive his guidance and approval. He was more than pleased to give it.

The emotion in his voice as we celebrated blasting Taliban and al-Qaeda filth into pink mist was revealing. Few of his friends and colleagues were joining Hitch's military crusade -- or if they did, they lacked his aggressive demeanor. And though he was attracting newer, younger admirers, the fact that someone from the old days enthusiastically supported him meant a lot. There were moments when he sounded choked up (which could have been a heavy smoker's gag as well, but for all of his bluster, Hitch did have a soft center, which he showed on occasion), and he encouraged me in an all-embracing tone. After this call, we kept in constant touch via e-mail, coming up with snappy pro-war bumperstickers and slogans, taking delight in the latest Taliban casualty reports, making fun of lefties like Noam Chomsky, who just didn't get it, and probably never would.

My friends at LBO-Talk were among the deluded, or so I then thought, and I decided to make the pro-war case directly to them. Needless to say, it didn't go over very well.

I tried to couch my appeals in anti-imperial rhetoric -- tough to do when a superpower is bombing a much smaller, much poorer, undefended country. I pointed to the fact that thanks to the U.S. invasion, relief workers could bring food and medicine to those who needed it, and that a predicted famine was averted, which it was. I also celebrated new political openings in Afghanistan, which even the radical feminist Afghan group RAWA, who had opposed both the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, and wasn't crazy about U.S. bombs falling around them, acknowledged. Was it a perfect intervention? Of course not. Were innocents killed? Yes, tragically and unavoidably so. Was it better than letting Afghans languish and die under Taliban rule? Please. No comparison.

For once the U.S. got it right, I repeatedly stated. I even compared our action to Vietnam's invasion and occupation of Cambodia in 1978, when the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot were removed from their murderous perch and chased into the jungle. Who on the list was against that intervention? Moreover, what about those who supported the Soviet invasion and pummeling of Afghanistan throughout the 1980s? The Soviets were much more brutal than we were, wiping out entire villages, killing up to a million people. Plus, they were fighting the same type of enemy we were. Why the sudden concern for Afghan sovereignty? I asked them, knowing the answer in advance: because the U.S. is a capitalist imperial power devoted to corporate theft and rule, while the Soviets were trying to spread and defend socialism. But even given that, how could any Western progressive prefer the medieval Taliban to an imperfect but clearly superior modern presence?

Most of my list pals were not swayed in the slightest, and they made this immediately known, in many cases through condescension, incredulity, and above all, sheer hostility. I expected no less, and gave back in return, when not simply engaging in crass, personal attacks and dismissals. Reading my missives now is a bewildering, depressing experience, as if my earlier self had been possessed by some caustic social democrat or self-righteous liberal hawk. The young soldier who favored war began giving way to an older personality who, while still applauding cluster bomb strikes, employed years of lefty learning and exposure to justify the violence. Yes, I was critical of Bush, whom I never trusted, but at least he was killing the right people, so W. was good for something regardless of his personal/political reasoning.

It's a fool's game to project your political fantasies on someone with massive state power at his or her hands, and I was as big a fool as any. But back then, you couldn't tell me this. If you tried, I would've smeared you as soft on fascism, a phony progressive, an enabler of Osama. I was right, and you were wrong. Support for the Afghan campaign was crucial to help defend secular Western society and traditions. And even though I contrasted my endorsement of the Afghanistan war with extreme skepticism about the coming invasion of Iraq, I personally wrestled with the latter issue for months, and seriously considered endorsing that as well.

Once you've openly, enthusiastically supported a U.S.-led war, the next one comes easily, at least in theory. Hitchens made that transition from Serbia to Afghanistan to Iraq; and while I opposed Clinton's bombing of Serbia, Hitchens was softening me up to join him in promoting the Iraq war. Whatever hesitation he may have initially had, once Hitchens signed on with that invasion, he was in for the duration. Did I have the same fortitude? he asked me repeatedly. How could I support regime change in Afghanistan and not in Iraq? Wasn't Saddam equally as fascistic as the Taliban, perhaps worse? The larger war was about to commence, Hitch maintained, and this was no time for second guessing and cold feet. The war effort needed defenders like us. So -- was I in, or out?

TOMORROW: The conclusion.