Over the last two weeks there was a flap over a piece published in The New Republic by an American soldier in Iraq named Scott Beauchamp. He described a number of gruesome scenes, some of which did not portray his fellow soldiers in the best of light. The piece drew ferocious blow-back from the Neocon war party, whose hallmark is complete control over the news on the ground and from the front ranks in Iraq. They viewed the report as a violation of their sacred monopoly and were determined to destroy Beauchamp and to lash out at The New Republic.
I have no idea whether Beauchamp’s story was accurate. But at this point I have seen enough of the Neocon corner’s war fables to immediately discount anything that emerges from it. One example: back last spring, when I was living in Baghdad, on Haifa Street, I sat in the evening reading a report by one of the core Neocon pack. He was reporting from Baghdad, and recounted a day he had spent out on a patrol with U.S. troops on Haifa Street. He described a peaceful, pleasant, upscale community. Children were out playing on the street. Men and women were out going about their daily business. Well, in fact I had been forced to spend the day “in the submarine,” as they say, missing appointments I had in town. Why? This bucolic, marvelous Haifa Street that he described had erupted in gun battles the entire day. In the view of my security guards, with which I readily concurred, it was too unsafe. And yes, I could hear the gunfire and watch some of the exchanges from my position. No American patrol had passed by and there were certainly no children playing in the street. This was the point when I realized that many of these accounts were pure fabrications.
What’s interesting about this whole affair is not the Beauchamp story, but the response to it from William Kristol, the Weekly Standard, and their quite amazing ability to exercise total command and control over the public affairs operations at the Pentagon throughout the process. Pentagon public affairs operated as an extension of Kristol’s publication, giving it exclusive access to special reports and data (most of which, incidentally, proved an exercise in fiction writing). Beauchamp himself was detained and placed under pressure to recant. Had all of these facts been reported to me as something done by Glavlit and the Red Army in Brezhnev era Russia, I wouldn’t have been surprised. But this was the United States.
The best volley in this exchange so far was fired yesterday by Jonathan Chait. He titles his piece “The Thuggery of William Kristol” and he goes straight for the jugular:
Offering up [Kristol’s] interpretation of why TNR would publish such slanders, he concluded, in an editorial titled, “They Don’t Really Support the Troops”:
”Having turned against a war that some of them supported, the left is now turning against the troops they claim still to support. They sense that history is progressing away from them–that these soldiers, fighting courageously in a just cause, could still win the war, that they are proud of their service, and that they will be future leaders of this country.”
In just two sentences, this passage provides a full summary of the decrepit intellectual state of neoconservatism. First, there is Kristol’s curious premise that tnr only published this essay because we have “turned against” the war. If Beauchamp’s writings were tnr’s attempt to discredit the war, why would his first contribution describe a pro-American Iraqi boy savagely mutilated by insurgents? For that matter, why would we work to undermine the war by publishing a first-person account on the magazine’s back page rather than taking the more straightforward step of, say, editorializing for withdrawal?
The notion that TNR published a Diarist merely for the edification of readers, rather than to advance a political agenda, did not occur to Kristol, because he could not imagine doing any such thing himself. He once explained his belief in the philosopher Leo Strauss to journalist Nina Easton thusly: “One of the main teachings is that all politics are limited and none of them is really based on the truth.” Whether or to what degree Beauchamp’s Diarist is true could not matter less to him.
Then Chait looks at other absurdities which play a recurrent role in the Weekly Standard’s repertoire, namely the idea that anyone pointing to a war crime, excess, or abuse is betraying the soldiers. (In fact, of course, it is the soldiers who commit such acts who are dishonoring their uniforms. But the worst situation comes when chickenhawk commanders back in Washington scheme to undermine the rules of war, a recurrent theme of the Neocon-dominated bureaucracy.)
Chait points out something I had missed, namely that Kristol is a major procurer of the “stabbed in the back” rhetoric.
The theme of traitorous liberals is becoming a Standard trope. Last week’s cover depicted an American soldier seen from behind and inside a circular lens–as if caught in the sights of a hostile sniper–beneath the headline, “Does Washington have his back?” The Weimar-era German right adopted the metaphor of liberals stabbing soldiers in the back. Kristol is embracing the metaphor of liberals shooting soldiers in the back. I suppose this is progress, of sorts.
I congratulate Chait for standing his ground. And his comments left me thinking back to Bush’s awful Weimar speech from yesterday. Did Bill Kristol have a hand in that atrocity as well? In any event, that speech was clearly stained with Neocon DNA.