Joe Conason's Journal

Tom DeLay and Page Six join the White House in demonizing dissenters. Plus: The big think tank most aggressively attacking the administration on Iraq is on the right.

Published March 19, 2003 4:23PM (EST)

Support our troops -- and defend free speech
As American soldiers prepare to commence action in Iraq, those of us who have expressed opposition to this war should express our solidarity with them as well as with the innocent civilians whose lives will soon be in jeopardy. Doubting the wisdom of the president's policies is not the same as wishing their failure. I have supported some military actions and criticized others, but I have never understood why the politicians who are most eager to send soldiers into harm's way are always depicted as their most ardent friends. Obviously it is possible to "support our troops" and to hope for a swift and easy victory while questioning the policies that have placed them at risk.

In this instance, the military commanders to whom we entrust the lives of young Americans in uniform have been among the most skeptical about the costs and benefits of invading Iraq. They understand that the best outcome for our men and women in uniform -- as well as for the world -- would have been the successful disarmament of Iraq without the firing of a single weapon. Soon, despite whatever private doubts they may have harbored, those commanders and their troops will execute the orders of the commander in chief. They deserve the gratitude and concern of every American regardless of party or ideology.

Impugning the patriotism of anyone who questions or opposes this administration's policies is an ugly habit on the right -- one that has grown more intense and politically opportunistic since Sept. 11, 2001. (Today's Page Six features a mindless attack on actors who have spoken out against the war, urging readers to boycott the so-called "Saddam lovers.") These tactics are made more repugnant by hypocrisy and double standards. Recall that when President Clinton and NATO waged war against the Milosevic dictatorship to protect the Kosovars from genocide, ultra-right Republicans led by Tom DeLay denounced and undermined him nearly every day. His stupid pronouncements embarrassed the Congress and the nation, but no conservative told DeLay to prove his loyalty by shutting up.

On Tuesday, the strutting House leader urged Sen.Tom Daschle to "fermez la bouche," taking a cheap shot at the Democrat for criticizing the president's diplomatic failure. Having served in the Air Force, Daschle doesn't need to prove his love of flag and country to the likes of DeLay. The only uniform in DeLay's closet is his pest exterminator outfit. (He once explained that he had been unable to fight in Vietnam because too many minorities had joined up and taken all the available Army bunks.)

Meanwhile, right-wing opponents of the Iraq invasion remain free to criticize the president's policies without being demonized as traitors or appeasers. Perhaps the most determined and consistent (not to mention lavishly funded) center of opposition to the war in Washington is the libertarian Cato Institute. Yesterday Charles V. Peña, Cato's director of defense policy studies, issued a statement that articulated the same positions held by the mainstream antiwar movement:

"Ultimately, the path Bush has led the United States down is not about weapons of mass destruction, Security Council Resolution 1441, weapons inspections, or disarmament. It has always been about regime change and using America's military power to enforce a world order deemed favorable to U.S. interests. Further, the United States is setting a potentially dangerous precedent by engaging in preventative war -- not a pre-emptive strike against an imminent threat -- based on the uncertainty of not knowing whether a threat might materialize at some point in the future. Now that the administration is where it wanted to be all along and war seems certain, we must hope for a swift and decisive war with a minimum of casualties on both sides."

Those remarks were only the latest in a long catalog of press releases, studies, Op-Ed articles and columns about the foolishness of the White House drive to war from Cato's big, shiny office building near Capitol Hill. Dozens of prominent conservatives are associated with Cato, apparently at no risk to their patriotic credentials. Its wealthy directors include Theodore Forstmann, David H. Koch, Jeffrey S. Yass and other big Republican donors; among its scholars and fellows are humorist-philosopher P.J. O'Rourke, Chicago law professor Richard A. Epstein, economists Richard Rahn, Thomas Hazlett and Walter Williams, Club for Growth honcho Stephen Moore, and syndicated columnist Doug Bandow (whose writing regularly appears in such super-hawkish venues as the National Review and the Wall Street Journal).

Why are Republican flacks and right-wing ideologues permitted to say the same things that provoke boycotts when uttered by movie stars and musicians? The double standard that condemns liberals while condoning libertarians is indefensible. There is nothing patriotic about the partisan abuse of loyal dissenters. It's a disgrace to the flag that these phonies wrap around themselves.
[10:50 a.m. PST, March 19, 2003]

Taranto bites's James Taranto yesterday branded me dumb and lazy as well as "hyperpartisan." While it's funny to be accused of excessive partisanship by the Wall Street Journal editorial types -- a claque that prides itself on being more Republican than the GOP -- Taranto probably shouldn't be calling anyone else stupid.

In comparing Dick Cheney's hostility to "multilateral organizations and alliances" with the John Birch Society's old anti-U.N. bumper sticker, Taranto complains, I neglected to look up the current Web site of the Birch Society. He goes on to chide me for supposedly upholding the power of the U.N. to veto American foreign policy, which of course I never did.

Actually, my Birch Society reference was to a famous slogan -- "Get the U.S. out of the U.N." -- that I explicitly dated to "circa 1962." (That means "about 41 years ago," James.) I didn't suggest that Cheney was echoing the current position of the Birchers, whatever it may be -- so why should I have linked to their Web site? My point was that Cheney's faction never wanted to seek U.N. sanction for attacking Iraq, as the Journal well knows since its editorials share his position -- and that those same unilateralists are now pleased to shove aside the U.N., NATO and any other alliance or institution that might inconvenience their plans.
[10:50 a.m. PST, March 19, 2003]

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