October 31, 2005
Schizophrenia at The New Republic
issue (October 31) of The New Republic has on its cover
a cartoon drawing of an exhausted George Bush struggling to shore
as the the nose of the "SS GOP" sinks beneath the waves
in the background. "Beached Party" is the theme of the
issue, and it appears (from the cover anyway) that the editors
are none too displeased at the sight of the President at odds
with fellow conservatives over the war in Iraq and a bizarre Supreme
in fact, the gist of Franklin Foer's column which is highlighted
on the cover. Mr. Foer writes that the Harriet Miers nomination
has demonstrated to conservatives that the President is not one
of them: "Five years into the Bush administration,"
he writes, "(conservatives) are stuck with an uncomfortable
fact: they have fervently supported a president who has not only
failed to deliver many lasting victories to their movement, but
who has also saddled the reputation of the American right with
what will in all likelihood be regarded as a losing war."
He notes further that conservatives reacted so negatively to the
Miers nomination because "they needed a pretext to begin
divorce proceedings against Bush and, more important, his war."
The column continues in this vein, citing (or quoting) various
conservatives who were either against the war from the beginning
or dissatisfied with the way it has been conducted, and who are
now eager to express their differences with the administration.
for his part, appears to be encouraged by these developments,
since from his point of view such reactions to the President and
his policies are long overdue. Thus, the President will be weakened
by these attacks from conservative quarters; and since nearly
all liberals and Democrats gave up on the war long ago, these
criticisms by conservatives represent but the final step in the
process of discrediting the intervention altogether.
Yet if the
reader simply turns to the next page of the October 31 issue,
he encounters an unsigned editorial titled "A Constitution,"
which develops an entirely different portrait of the ongoing struggle
in Iraq. The editors, much to their credit, do not view the situation
in Iraq in the context of domestic politics but rather in terms
of the struggle for democracy in that part of the world. From
this standpoint, they are encouraged by recent developments, and
especially by the ratification two weeks ago of a new constitution
for Iraq. There is no talk here of the President or of conservatives
being saddled with a "losing war."
begins with a quotation from an article by Fouad Ajami which appeared
in The Wall Street Journal: "The remarkable thing
about the terror in Iraq," Ajami wrote, "is the silence
with which it is greeted in other Arab lands." True enough.
The editorial then continues: "There is a second, even more
remarkable thing about the terror in Iraq: the silence with which
it is greeted in Western countries, including the United States."
This is all too true as well, and inexcusably so. Indeed, the
editors might begin to redress this problem by walking across
the hall and showing their editorial to their colleague, Mr. Foer
-- assuming, that is, that he did not have a hand in writing it.
take note of the fact that the terrorism in Iraq is largely the
work of a "sullen caste of Sunni Arabs who cruelly ruled
their Kurdish and Shia countrymen." The Sunnis, as they point
out, are just 20 percent of the population but nevertheless wish
to dominate the country without opposition as they did during
the brutal reign of Saddam Hussein. The terror is, as they say,
"the new expression of an old hostility to freedom."
cite these difficulties and challenges in order to place events
in Iraq in the proper context. The ratification of a constitution
is a long step forward precisely because of the challenges of
terror and ethnic conflict. "Given all this," the editors
rightly say, "the ratification of the Iraqi constitution
is a momentous step in the struggle for moderation, democracy,
and order." They go further to note that, despite flaws in
the process of drafting and ratifying the constitution, "nothing
like these extended negotiations by elected representatives over
a written compact for an ethnically plural population has ever
taken place in the Arab world, not even in Lebanon." Nor,
they might have added, has anything like it happened in many other
places in the world. It is, by any standard, an impressive accomplishment,
though one that apparently cuts little ice some writers at the
ends by noting that soon the trial of Saddam Hussein will begin,
at which time the world will be reminded of the criminal character
of his 30-year reign over the people of Iraq. Yet, as the editors
remind us, "the monster himself will experience one of the
benefits of the American intervention: he will have a fair trial."
This is an
impressive editorial, one that makes a persuasive case for the
real progress that is being made in Iraq. Though placed adjacent
in the magazine to Foer's column, the editorial is light years
away from it in terms of substance and tone. Foer could not be
clearer in his disdain for the war (and for the President); the
editors could not be clearer in their admiration for its aim of
bringing democracy to the people of Iraq.
among writers in a magazine like The New Republic are
not necessarily a bad thing, and in fact can be healthy to the
extent that they expose readers to a range of thoughtful opinion.
Yet the juxtaposition of these two pieces appears as more of an
editorial mind split apart than a healthy elaboration of different
views. Neither article takes note of the other, or responds to
arguments set forth on the adjacent page. There is no debate here,
nor even an acknowledgement that one is called for. Foer writes
as if the stupidity of the war is self-evident; but the editors
make a better case for it than anyone in the Bush administration
has yet done. It is one thing for editors to publish conflicting
views; it is another thing to pretend that such conflicts do not
moroever -- that conservatives used the Miers appointment as a
pretext for opposing the administration on the war or that the
debate over Miers is a proxy for debate over the war-- is not
even close to being true. Conservatives have been debating the
war in Iraq since the prospect of an invastion was first raised
in the weeks following the terrorist attacks in 2001. That debate
did not change an iota with the Miers nomination, nor will it
change again with the withdrawal of that nomination. Yet the editors
featured Foer's article on their cover rather than their own far
more persuasive and articulate editorial.
It is no
doubt true that the great majority of TNR's readers are
opposed to the war in Iraq and find few redeeming qualities in
the President. Perhaps for this reason they had to highlight such
anti-Bush views on their cover, while burying their admiration
for achievements in Iraq (but without any praise for Bush) in
an unsigned editorial inside. They wish, in other words, to be
anti-Bush but for the war, a position that makes little sense,
for (as Foer argued and everyone knows) Bush has based his presidency
on the war on terrror and, to a great extent, on the intervention
in Iraq. Much of the hatred for the President in liberal circles,
moreover, is rooted in his decision to intervene in Iraq. This
effort to square the circle is what makes the juxtaposition of
these two articles so confusing.
of The New Republic have often criticized politicians,
writers, and editorialists for taking contradictory, illogical,
or ill-defined positions. They might do their readers a service
by straightening out their own confused and confusing views on
this important subject.
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