Monday, January 29, 2007


Ah, that's better. Now that I have flamed the tar out of people who desperately deserved it, for their obstinate stupidity in assuming they know my motivations, when they scarcely even know me, let me get to one of the things that actually did change my mind about the war in Iraq.

This article.

Really, that's most of it. That one article. That one article that I had missed completely when it first appeared in May 2004.

I found it instead just a few months ago, probably at Sadly, No!, which blog I was only reading to get in good with my leftist pals, if by "my leftist pals," you mean "my boyfriend," a man who longtime readers will recall was never on board this let's-liberate-Iraq joyride in the first place.

Anyway, you trying sharing a residence with a guy who's always leaving the browser at and see if you don't wind up reading it once in awhile. Except, a true wingnut would hold out and never read it, and would probably dump my boyfriend for being a big ol' traitor besides, and that brings me to the first crack in the foundation of my belief that conservatives were mainly reasonable, rational people: The first crack struck when I realized that too many of them take pride in how much they don't read. "I don't read that liberal biased horseshit." "I don't dive in that dumpster." "Oh, no, I don't need to look at that America-hating filth."

Who the hell is proud of not reading? Idiots, that's who. Idiots are proud of not reading.

But in May 2004 I was too busy getting all upset about Robert McNamara to read that Washington Post article. It's doubtful I would have found it mentioned in the blogs I was reading at the time, anyway. It's not an article you'd have wanted to get much traction, if you supported the war:

Others from across the District responded affirmatively to the same e-mail [offering job opportunities in Iraq], for different reasons. Andrew Burns, 23, a Red Cross volunteer who had taught English in rural China, felt going to Iraq would help him pursue a career in humanitarian aid. Todd Baldwin, 28, a legislative aide for Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), thought the opportunity was too good to pass up. John Hanley, 24, a Web site editor, wanted to break into the world of international relations. Anita Greco, 25, a former teacher, and Casey Wasson, 23, a recent college graduate in government, just needed jobs.

For months they wondered what they had in common, how their names had come to the attention of the Pentagon, until one day they figured it out: They had all posted their resumes at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank.


When Ledeen's group showed up at the palace -- with their North Face camping gear, Abercrombie & Fitch camouflage and digital cameras -- they were quite the spectacle. For some, they represented everything that was right with the CPA: They were young, energetic and idealistic. For others, they represented everything that was wrong with the CPA: They were young, inexperienced, and regarded as ideologues.

Several had impressive paper credentials, but in the wrong fields. Greco was fluent in English, Italian and Spanish; Burns had been a policy analyst focused on family and health care; and Ledeen had co-founded a cooking school. But none had ever worked in the Middle East, none spoke Arabic, and few could tell a balance sheet from an accounts receivable statement.

Other staffers quickly nicknamed the newcomers "The Brat Pack."

"They had come over because of one reason or another, and they were put in positions of authority that they had no clue about," remembered Army Reserve Sgt. Thomas D. Wirges, 38, who had been working on rehabilitating the Baghdad Stock Exchange.

Some also grumbled about the new staffers' political ties. Retired U.S. Army Col. Charles Krohn said many in the CPA regard the occupation "as a political event," always looking for a way to make the president look good.

I read that article and something jogged loose from my memory and landed as one thought, WHUMP! in the center of my consciousness:

I've read this before.

And in fact I had read it before:

From: Ambassador Louis Sears (Sarkhan)
To: Mr. Dexter S. Peterson, Sarkhan Desk, State Department, Washington, D.C.

Dear Dex,

I'm writing this to you personally (even typing it myself) because I need help and I want to make sure you know what the score is out here in Sarkhan. Honest, Dex, these Sarkhanese are really tricky. Sometimes I think they're all Commies. And to tell you the truth, I'm not so sure about the loyalty of some of the Americans here, either.

I guess that by now the Department's been reading all the press lies about Sarkhan. The stories that reporter for the Times wrote are false. . . .

. . . what I need in a hurry for my staff are some people I can trust who have initiative. . . . For one thing, we need a new public affairs officer. This girl Maggie Johnson is all right, but she agrees with the native press too much. And she keeps bringing newpapermen--especially Americans--in to see me. They pester hell out of me about problems which are none of their business, and which Miss Johnson should handle on her own.

Yes, I had definitely read it before:

"What about learning to speak a foreign language?" a small wiry girl asked. "I understand you have to learn the language of a country before you go there."

"Now, just a minute," Joe said, his voice full of good humor, "someone gave you the wrong dope. Uncle Sammy is not crazy. How many people do you think we could round up in this country who can speak Cambodian or Japanese or even German? Well, not very many. I don't parlez vous very well myself, but I've always made out pretty well in foreign countries. Fact is, we don't expect you to know the native language. Translators are a dime a dozen overseas. And besides, it's better to make the Asians learn English. Helps them, too. Most of the foreigners you'll do business with speak perfect English."

It was so familiar:

In 1954, at a dinner party in Rangoon in honor of Ambassador MacWhite, someone said to U Maung Swe, "British prestige certainly is low in Southeast Asia. What about America?"

U Maung Swe said, "Poor America. It took the British a hundred years to lose their prestige in Asia. America has managed to lose hers in ten years. And there was no need for it. In fact, she could get it all back in two years, if she wanted to." In the discussion which followed, U Maung Swe answered these questions:

What in general has caused America's loss of prestige?

The Americans I knew in the United States were wonderfully friendly, unassuming, and interested in the world. No one who has ever visited America and come to know the country could fail to trust and respect her people.

For some reason, however, the Americans I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious. Perhaps they're frightened and defensive, or maybe they're not properly trained and make mistakes out of ignorance.

I could go on--there must be a dozen other passages that fit.

The Ugly American deals with Southeast Asia, setting most events in the fictional country of Sarkhan. We're not dealing with a Southeast Asia problem right now, we're dealing with a Middle Eastern one. But we're not dealing with problems abroad any better than we were fifty years ago:

* We're still staffing foreign agencies based on perceived loyalty of the applicants, rather than on their abilities to perform the job well.

* We're still adopting a patronizing attitude towards citizens of foreign countries: They should learn English. They should be grateful to us for liberating them. Maybe they even owe US an apology.

* We're still devaluing diplomacy--it's too effeminate, it's totally for fags, and after all, we're Americans. People should be diplomatic to us, not the other way around.

In short, we haven't learned a damned thing--probably because we were all too busy being so proud of how we'd never read a book with such a hateful title as The Ugly American, a book I first read when I borrowed it from my very-and-lifelong-Republican mother.

(But you know, frankly?--They just used to make Republicans different. There wasn't always this slavish devotion to the Executive branch that there is now. Religious extremists were called, properly, religious extremists, and not "the base." People who boasted of their isolation and ignorance were called idiots, not "true patriots." And so on.)

I haven't wanted to get into any of this, because I've been watching what passes for argument these days on the right, and it's really bad. Y'all are down to one strategy, one boring and tedious strategy that you never change in the slightest, and that strategy is Death by Nitpick. The "Forest? What forest? Come over here and check out the teensy mite on this one leaf on this one branch of this one tree!" style of argument. And I have to tell you, few things bore the piss outta me like nitpicking.

Fauxtography (and just fuck you all to hell for coming up with that term, a term even more twee than "blogosphere") was one big, sweaty, wanktastic nitpick, you tools. This should not even need to be said; in the company of sane people, it wouldn't need to be said. It would be right there, as plain to all as 2 + 2 = 4. None would remark upon it.

But this is the internet, so when a stringer added extra smoke to a photograph, obviously and badly, you all shit yourselves over it for a MONTH.

Now: Did it change the central fact that buildings were blown up in Lebanon? Of course not. But it's the principle of the thing, right? The principle that photographers should not alter their photographs, that's a sound principle. Journalistic integrity, that's another sound principle. The endless hysteria over the smoke, the smooooooooooooke, though, that was just entirely fucking stupid, and not useful in the formulation or practice of sound principles at all.

So I haven't wanted to say what I think about how badly we're screwing up Iraq, how much our foreign policy sucks, or how little any of this has changed in fifty years, because I have not wanted visits from your Pablos and your BumperStickerists and your other assorted drooling cretins who want to fight over details of dubious relevancy, while hurling the same tired accusations like you supported Saddam then, right? and I guess you think we should have trusted the U.N. to fix everything and huh, another victim of Bush Derangement Syndrome and--and, you know something? At this point I would not be one bit surprised to be accused of anti-Semitism, too, because yes, wingnuts, some of you have become THAT brain-damaged. What happened to you? Were you always this stupid and I just didn't notice?

I just haven't wanted to get into it, not because I find my position difficult to defend, but because asking me to defend it from the death-by-a-thousand-cuts-style attacks of utter imbeciles is asking me to waste my time. And if I'm going to waste time, I'm afraid I've got better ways to waste it.


Anonymous said...

Good post.

Elayne said...

Wow. Your last two posts have really blown me away, Ilyka. I readily admit that, as open-minded as I like to think I am, I don't read any right-of-center political blogs because, from what I gather, none of them seem to be the least bit courteous toward opinions that don't match their ever-changing mindsets. (And that's a tough enough game to play when you have an administration that changes its reasoning about as often as the government in Orwell's 1984 did.) They all just seem to be in lockstep, and immediately turn on anyone ostensibly on their "side" who isn't an automatic part of their echo chamber.

I know there's also a liberal echo chamber (particularly with male-run blogs, which sometimes all seem to run together with the same commentary on the same stories) and they have their share of internal strife (just Google "firedoglake" and "blackface" to see a bunch of it), but for the most part they seem much more welcoming of debate and more reluctant to attack people for no reason than the right-leaning blogs.

But I kinda figured you were in for it once you became quite a vocal feminist. I don't know too many conservative feminists, because so much of feminism is about speaking out against injustice, which is not a terribly conservative stance.

Shinobi said...

During the 2004 election when they were using all that"flip flopper" rhetoric, I got pretty annoyed. I think that "flip floping" or rather, changing opinions on an issue based on new information, is something we as Americans should honor. (Though it is hard to find out if it is based on information or for political gain.)

The fact that we have enshrined the idea of having an opinion and sticking to it till doomsday seems to me just as stupid as being proud of the fact that we don't read. The world changes all the time, new information becomes available all the time. Why aren't we allowed to change our minds?

And maybe it's not even changing your mind. Just because you agreed initially with the idea that something SHOULD be done, doesn't mean that you have to continue to support it when it is being done poorly. (I may want to have an operation, but I probably don't want that operation if they aren't going to do the best possible job.)