Right Hook

Conservatives say Bush is drifting on Iraq and that Fallujah should be crushed, but they've been conspicuously quiet about the photos of flag-draped coffins. Plus: O'Reilly bashes Rummy!

Mark Follman
April 29, 2004 2:35AM (UTC)

As the Bush administration continues to struggle with the daunting military and political puzzle of Iraq, where multiple factions launched deadly insurgencies during April, conservatives are growing anxious to unleash the full might of the U.S. military. To do anything less, they argue, now imperils long-term U.S. credibility and control.

Even so, some hawkish commentators seem wary of the vast political and strategic risks involved. As U.S. forces went on the offensive around Najaf on Tuesday aiming to root out Shiite militant leader Muqtada al-Sadr, National Review contributor Jed Babbin remained somewhat cautious about attacking that citadel of Islamic holy ground, arguing that the U.S. needs to "get the Iraqis ready to do it themselves in Najaf." He doesn't go into detail as to how, though he says the Coalition Provisional Authority's inability to gain clear support from prominent Iraqi Shia cleric Ali al-Sistani is "a failure of historic proportion."


But Babbit appears far less concerned about the potential fallout from launching an all-out attack on Fallujah. Calling the cease-fire there "phony," he says the Bush administration needs to replace its flat-footed leadership posthaste -- and then invite all the Iraqi civilians of Fallujah to get out of the way so that U.S. forces can level the city if they have to. (On Tuesday night, U.S. forces stepped up airstrikes, ending a shaky two-day extension to last week's cease-fire.)

"Any place -- mosque, hospital, school -- is a legitimate military target when the enemy is using it for a military purpose. The worst of it is that we've waited too long to strike, and are allowing the insurgents to trap us into the house-to-house fighting Saddam wanted us to face in Baghdad. We can still avoid the trap. But the leadership in Iraq -- Bremer and army old-think generals -- will have to be replaced before we can ...

"We are adrift, and our enemies are taking full advantage of it ... We could have, and should have, made a full-out attack on Fallujah two weeks ago. The longer we wait, the more casualties our men suffer while the Iranian, Syrian, and other imported terrorists entrench themselves among the innocents there. Our military operations should proceed without regard to damage to the city, only taking care to avoid inflicting casualties on the noncombatants. This can still be done, by requiring the women, children, and elders to leave now, and then use the full force we have available to kill the insurgents. No more ceasefires anywhere, please, until the insurgents are beaten decisively."


Ralph Peters, a regular contributor to the New York Post, is even more blunt about the current battle for Fallujah, blasting the Bush administration for a lack of foresight and planning.

"We created the problem of Fallujah -- through neglect. Had we had adequate forces on hand a year ago in the immediate aftermath of combat to permeate the Sunni Triangle with troops, and had the administration had the clarity of vision to declare martial law, the current violence would have been averted.

"Instead, we handed gold-plated lollipops to killers and worried about hurting the feelings of Saddam's hard-core supporters. We looked away as the terrorists gripped one Iraqi city after another -- because we lacked the forces to put a military 'cop' on every beat. Our enemies didn't need to hide -- we weren't around often enough to see them ...


"Since the cease-fire, our troops have had to endure the ludicrous charade of 'negotiations' with the Fallujah city fathers -- breaking the rule that we never negotiate with terrorists or their surrogates. The resulting 'agreement' to turn in heavy weapons led to the mockery of sending the Marines a pick-up truck full of junk while the terrorists gained weeks to prepare their defenses, construct ambushes and organize a far tougher resistance than they could have presented two weeks ago."

Peters says the only way to ultimately subdue U.S. enemies in Iraq is to spill their blood for all the world to see.


"Our insipid diplomacy plays into the hands of our enemies: It looks like cowardice. And it is. We must not only win, we must be seen to win, graphically and decisively. 'Experts' warn that we mustn't alienate the hard-core Sunnis or the fundamentalist Shia's. Wake up and smell the cordite: They're already alienated. They'll never love us. So we'd better make damned sure they fear us ...

"We must win. If the enemy fights from mosques, level the mosques. If they fight from hospitals, gut the hospitals. If they open fire from orphanages, turn them into blackened shells. We cannot allow terrorists any sanctuaries. The men we face -- and the watching world -- interpret our decency as weakness ...

"The president needs to lead, not equivocate. If there is any emerging resemblance to Vietnam, it isn't on the battlefield, but in the White House, where no one seems to have the will to win."


Out of sight, out of mind?
As the fighting in Iraq escalates, the number of U.S. casualties is also likely to rise. But as the human cost of the war began to come into view last week when photos of flag-draped coffins appeared in the press, pro-war bloggers were conspicuously quiet about the issue. (Steyn? Sullivan? Simon?) Rather than defending or criticizing the Bush ban on photographing fallen U.S. soldiers being returned home, some on the right simply resorted to cynical attacks on the press -- once it was reported that the Web site responsible for acquiring the photos through a Freedom of Information Act request had accidentally conflated the images of military casualties with some images of victims of the Columbia shuttle disaster.

"Falling all over themselves in an unseemly and ghoulish haste to publish photographs of American soldiers arriving home in coffins, the Washington Post, CNN, AP, and Reuters all ran pictures of Columbia shuttle disaster victims -- wrongly identified as Iraqi war dead," declared Charles Johnson, whose blog is called Little Green Footballs.

Johnson linked to the Drudge Report, the influential right-wing gossip outlet, which blared the news of the mistaken NASA photos on Friday -- even though Drudge was one of the first to publicize a photo of flag-draped coffins taken by a military contractor and published in the Seattle Times the day before.


High-profile conservative pundits may have been reticent on the issue, but there was ample discussion among the readers of Johnson's blog:

"Western civilization is under attack," bellowed one reader, who ripped the Seattle Times for "gleefully" flaunting the photos. "You abet the islamozoids with our war dead photos. Worse, you demonstrate your allegiance to those who would destroy us. We, as a nation, need to gird our loins to repel this insidious evil that is islam. You are pathetic and traitorous with your actions. cease and desist and let our families mourn our dead in peace and dignity."

Are they terrorists or Nazis?
After the pro-choice March for Women's Lives in Washington on Sunday, Bush operative Karen Hughes compared reproductive-rights supporters to terrorists while Randall Terry, president of the Society for Truth and Justice, opted for an analogy to Hitler. Joseph Farah, editor of the right-wing Web tabloid World Net Daily, prefers the latter comparison himself, arguing that "these bleeding-hands liberals continue to act like an oppressed majority," even though "for most of the last 31 years, they have gotten their way.

"They got what they wanted through intimidation, through authoritarianism, through top-down state control and by denying the people any say in the issue," Farah continued. "That's why I thought what the aging diva of the bleeding-hands liberals, Gloria Steinem, had to say was nearly comical.


"'The desire to control reproduction is the mark of authoritarian governments around the world and, unfortunately, it's ours, as well,' she said on CNN ...

"Steinem is right when she calls U.S. national policy authoritarian. It is so because judicial tyrants have taken the matter of abortion out of the hands of the people -- or at least the people have been bullied into believing they have."

Indeed, Farah takes the Nazi line and plummets to a new low.

"After listening to all the speeches, reading all the banners and listening to all the chanting at yesterday's rally in the capital. Just what is it these malcontent feminazis want now? Will they not be satisfied until all the unborn babies are torn apart?"


National Review editor Kathryn Jean Lopez was less brutal, but still dismissed the marchers as a bunch of misguided juveniles.

"What was desperately lacking at the March for Women's Lives was any sense of perspective.

"The most colorful signs were of the 'Get Bush Off My Bush' variety. That's one thing on young girls' tank tops, but one of my Amtrak companions in her middle age was longing for one, too. It's a crowd that needs some growing up."

With an interesting twist of logic, she argues that the pro-choice women, by definition, should have given airtime to their opponents, too.


"Quietly gathering around the march were women and men -- and college students -- organized under a group called Silent No More, which works with families suffering from abortion. Their permit request was denied after an effective effort from the supposedly freedom-loving sisters who organized the 'March for Women's Lives.' (Said Georgette Forney, president of NOEL, one of the groups that makes up the Silent No More coalition [the other being Priests for Life], 'It's ironic that they are marching to protect women's right to choose and at the same time working to deny us our right to talk about the pain abortion caused us. We are the faces of the choice they promote.')"

O'Reilly to Rummy: "What the hell is going on"?
He may have been a loud war backer, but lately he's been ripping the Bush administration for everything from the missing WMD to a looming quagmire in Iraq. And now, in addition to criticizing various Bush officials, Fox News star Bill O'Reilly is even going after his own colleagues in the media for skirting some serious issues regarding the war.

"Let me ask you a direct question: Do you get angry at politicians who avoid answering tough questions?" O'Reilly wrote in his weekly commentary on his personal Web site. "Here's an example. I would like to ask Defense Secretary Rumsfeld one simple question: Why didn't your department warn the country that the aftermath of the war could be very bloody? Was it another intelligence failure?

"I cannot get Rumsfeld to answer that question.

"That's simply wrong. All Americans, including the thousands of families who have sons and daughters serving in Iraq, deserve to know as Rummy might put it, 'what the hell is going on.'

"Speaking before the Hollywood Radio and Television Society, Ted Koppel said: 'I have no problem whatsoever with entertainers and comedians pretending to be journalists; my problem is with journalists pretending to be entertainers.'"

But even if his own "No Spin Zone" has helped make Fox News the entertainment king of cable news, O'Reilly doesn't specify which category he fits under -- though he does elaborate a bit as to how the current media zeitgeist seems to have tilted the news picture.

"With all due respect to Mr. Koppel, whom I do respect, most electronic journalists must have an entertainment component these days, or they are out of business. We can't all work for PBS. It is the rise of ideological entertainers doing quasi-news programs on cable and talk radio that has changed the playing field. Politicians now have many more sympathetic ears in the media than ever before."

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Read more of "Right Hook," Salon's weekly roundup of conservative commentary and analysis here.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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