With the invasion of Iraq under discussion, several commentators have made troubling first attempts to define opposition to a war as subversive and dangerous. The strategy directly echoes attacks on dissent in the wake of Sept. 11, questioning the patriotism and good faith of those who raise legitimate — and important — issues.
Leading the charge are two highly influential pundits: Andrew Sullivan and Rush Limbaugh. Last week, Sullivan vaguely suggested that articles in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times on the growing debate over invading Iraq and congressional hearings on the subject are part of a “campaign to protect Saddam’s weaponry.” He also suggested that such arguments opposing the war constitute “appeasement” of Saddam. This emotionally charged analogy to pre-World War II European policy toward Nazi Germany is too pat: Deciding not to invade Iraq is not obviously comparable to actively granting territory or other concessions in exchange for peace.
Limbaugh extended those allegations to their logical extreme last week, claiming [Windows Media Player audio] that “It is obvious now that the New York Times has launched an effort to thwart America’s war effort.” He continued by suggesting that, assuming the Pentagon is not intentionally leaking plans in an effort to deceive Saddam, “[The Times is] publishing detailed military options and plans under consideration by the Pentagon, which could end up harming or killing God knows how many young American soldiers. They’re giving aid and comfort to our enemies.” Of the Times’ sources, Limbaugh commented, “I know we have a bunch of traitorous types in the State Department, but I never thought they existed at the Pentagon.”
A close, and much nastier, cousin of this argument is the suggestion that Democrats want a war in Iraq — but want it to fail in order to harm Bush politically. Frank Gaffney, a syndicated columnist and president of the Center for Security Policy, made exactly this point on CNN’s “Crossfire” last week, suggesting in response to a question about leaks of potential attack plans, “I suppose it’s because there are people who want the president’s policy to fail in Iraq, and who keep leaking this information.” [emphasis added] National Review’s Rob Long makes a similar suggestion in the Aug. 12 issue, writing in a fictitious diary entry by Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., that “some kind of quagmire in Iraq, with tens of thousands of American casualties and international scorn, is just not something I can really count on, unfortunately.”
Attacking the patriotism and motivations of those who question aspects of the war on terrorism has been an all too common tactic since Sept. 11. It has also been devastatingly effective at quieting dissent. One can only hope that the debate over whether and how to invade Iraq is not truncated by the same kind of chilling rhetoric.
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