If it is possible to be both obtuse and enlightening at the same time, then the New York Times op-ed page was just that last Thursday.
In the United States, Sept. 11 will forever be a day to remember our victims of terrorism. Yet our nation’s hands have not always been clean, and it is important to recall Chile’s Sept. 11, too. “The Pinochet File,” a new book by Peter Kornbluh, a researcher at the nonprofit National Security Archive, presents declassified documents showing that the Nixon administration, which had tried to block Mr. Allende’s inauguration, began plotting to bring him down just 72 hours after he took office.
Why drag this out only two years after 9/11? Maybe it was because it was the 30th Anniversary of the Pinochet coup? More likely, it is supposed historical evidence that the U.S. has been a bully in international affairs, and a subtle implication that under the Bush Administration we are now reprising that role.
In addition to the moral cluelessness, the Times displayed the obligatory condescension in the main editorial:
…we have also seen, in the past two years, a regrettable narrowing of our idea of patriotism. It has become, for some people in some ways, a more brittle expression of national sentiment — a blind statement of faith that does more to divide Americans from one another than to join them together.
We need to fear and temper that kind of rigidity. It is not the least bit unpatriotic to question some of the arguments that led to war in Iraq. No national purpose is served by losing our sense of political and historical discrimination in an upwelling of patriotic fervor. Much as it may seem logical that the horror of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, is inextricably linked to the other terrorist horrors around the world, the fact is that the connections are not all clear. The final answers must be as the evidence — not political will — determines.
As I have noted before, very few on the right have questioned the patriotism of those who opposed the Iraq War. Indeed, the claim by those on the left that their patriotism is being questioned is little more than a lame attempt to gain the moral high ground by portraying themselves as victims. The bigger implication in that passage is those who supported the Iraq War had no logical arguments, but were blinded by patriotism. That’s one of the oldest rhetorical tricks in the book: when you lose an argument, portray the prevailing side as based on little more than emotion.
What is most telling in that passage is the sentence “Much as it may seem logical that the horror of Sept. 11, 2001, is inextricably linked to other terrorist horrors around the world, the fact is that the connections are not at all clear.” Apparently, the Times editorialists don’t think that 9/11 has any broader foreign policy implications beyond dismantling al Qaeda. In other words, the War on Terrorism is not really a struggle against Islamofascism. If one believes this is not a war against Islamofascism, then there is no need for any military action after the Afghanistan campaign.
Although this seems a little surprising, the fact is the Times opposed broad military action from the very beginning. On Thursday, the op-ed page also displayed two editorials from September 12, 2001. After implicitly criticizing the Clinton administration’s approach to striking back at terrorists, the Times editorialists wrote:
When retaliation is warranted, as it will be in this case once the organizers have been identified, Washington needs light but lethal weapons to attack terrorist compounds in remote locations. Cruise missiles can be effective, but even more accurate weapons may be needed that can be used in coordination with enhanced intelligence information.
We suffer from an act of war without any enemy nation with which to do battle. The same media that brought us the pictures of a collapsing World Trade Center shows us the civilians who live in the same places that terrorists may dwell, whose lives are just as ordinary and just as precious as the one that we have lost.
Even then, only one day after thousands of Americans were slaughtered in their own backyard, the Times editorialists were already focused on people in other nations. They were already showing that they had no stomach for broad military campaigns. Broad military campaigns would return us to the days of the U.S. being a bully in foreign affairs, and result in the tragedies that are the consequence of such campaigns. Much better to use pinprick strikes that send a missile into a $10 tent to smack some camel in the butt.
The problem with this type of thinking is that one cannot simultaneously be against future 9/11’s and be against broad U.S. military campaigns in general. It is not just al Qaeda that would plan another terrorist attack on the U.S. Other adherents of radical Islam will scheme to harm us, unless we root them out. To do that we must eliminate the regimes that enable them, and that requires large-scale military campaigns.
Yet the Times and others on the left can’t see fit to support the “bully” in the international community. In the future we can expect that the Times and their ideological ilk will oppose all major military actions even if the targets are “inextricably linked” to al Qaeda. Nine-eleven was supposed to be the day that changed everything. Everything, except the left’s knee-jerk opposition to war.
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