Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Ignorance at National Review

Hat Tip: George at Alamo Nation

After a couple of decades of closely reading NR because of its political insight and humor, I’ve pretty much stopped. Not that there aren’t a number of insightful columnists still there, but there is a defeatism and a “my way or the highway” attitude that is just evident enough to shove me toward other sources.

John Derbyshire has now added astonishing ignorance to the list. He is now sorry that he supported the war. It reminds one of the Sorry Everybody site put up by the Left after the 2004 presidential election where people held up signs telling the world they were sorry George Bush got elected.

Ignorance. Let’s start with a historical, but pretty fundamental, error.
When the Founders of our nation said “all men” they had in mind Christian Anglo-Saxon men. Our leaders, though, want to bring the whole world under the scope of those grand Lockeian principles.
The trouble with this assertion is that the founding fathers did not think of the “Creator” as a tribal god concerned only with Anglo-Saxons. They in fact meant the Creator of the “whole world”–not just the Creator of Anglo-Saxons. They may have applied the self-evident truths most powerfully to themselves, but they were thinking more globally than Derbyshire gives them credit for thinking.

An example is their attitude toward the Germans, Swedes, Dutch, etc., in the colonial population. There’s no evidence that the founders were intent on leaving them out. I can’t think of a state constitution that made a distinction. I won’t even get into the rumbling issue on slavery that was already much in evidence when the Constitution was adopted (see Article 1, Section 9).
. . . while I supported the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the regime, I never thought much of the nation-building exercise that followed.
Nation-building has been a part of military victory for a good while now. The US thought it was important enough to send General Douglas MacArthur (and a lot of US troops) to oversee democracy building in Japan after World War II.

Same thing in Europe. The plan wasn't to let Europe figure out its own course after WWII–-under the watchful eye of the Soviet Union. Among other things, the Cold War was a decades long exercise in nation-building.

That John Derbyshire didn't think much of "the nation-building exercise" that followed this war says a lot about his lack of understanding of what winning a war entails.
[M]y attitude to the war is really just punitive, and Iraq was a target of opportunity. I am not a Wilsonian nation-builder. I don’t want to “bring democracy to Iraq.” I don’t, in fact, give a fig about the Iraqis. I am happy to leave barbarians alone to practice their unspeakable folkways, so long as they do not bother civilized peoples. When they do bother us, though, I want them smacked down with great ferocity.
It's an amazing assumption that if you smack people hard enough, they won’t bother you again. Didn’t we already try this in the first Gulf War? What would have been the point in Afghanistan to smack the Taliban and then leave?

The smack and run strategy sounds attractive, but that Derbyshire gives not one example of its historical effectiveness is telling. It also shows that Derbyshire doesn't understand terrorist movements like Al-Qaeda. How do you smack and run effectively with hidden and dispersed targets?
The effort to stabilize Iraq, and the reluctance to just leave the Iraqis to fight each other among the rubble, followed inevitably from that belief, which is, according to me, a false belief. I see all that now. I didn’t see it then. I am sorry.
I’m sad to see this sort of discourse at NR. I’m really sad to see John Derbyshire lose his moorings.


UPDATE: To give NR its due, it has just posted an interview with Larry Schweikart on America's Victories: Why the U.S. Wins Wars and Will Win the War on Terror. A little bit of this must-read interview:
If you ask any historian, “When did we win the war in the Pacific?” the answer would almost always be, “Midway.” After that, Japan couldn’t win — the only issue was the final, often gruesome, death toll. Think of that! That’s years before Iwo Jima or Okinawa, and yet historically the war was over after June 1942. Likewise, if you look at the Filipino Insurrection (1899-1902, followed by the “Moro Wars”) — which mirrors Iraq very closely, the war was over when William McKinley was reelected. It took two more years for Emilio Aguinaldo to admit defeat, but his stated goal of forcing a political solution by “un-electing” McKinley was finished. I think we hit the “tipping point” in Fallujah in November 2004. After that, the terrorists could no longer hold up in any town for long, nor could they organize effectively. Zarqawi’s recent death closely resembles our Pacific model as well when American P-38s ambushed Isoroku Yamamoto and killed him. Historically, of the 11 “insurgencies” and “guerilla wars” of the 20th century (including Vietnam), the government (in this case, that would be us) won eight. However, most of these took between five and eight years to win. That places us right on our timetable, which is to expect the death throes of the terrorists in Iraq in another year or two.
UPDATE 2: It's only fair to say that Derbyshire, not brought up on American history, seems not to know that almost a century and a half ago Abraham Lincoln quashed his argument that unalienable rights were only thought to apply to white men by those who signed the Declaration of Independence.
"The Chicago Press and Tribune reporter for the event wrote: "I cannot close this letter without giving your readers a passage from Mr. Lincoln's noble and impressive apostrophe to the Declaration of Independence. This was truly one of the finest efforts of public speaking I ever listened to. It gave to his auditors such an insight into the character of the man as ought to carry him into the Senate on a great surge of popular affection." He then quoted Mr. Lincoln, who said the Declaration of Independence:

...was formed by the representatives of American liberty from thirteen States of the confederacy — twelve of which were slaveholding communities. We need not discuss the way or the reason of their becoming slaveholding communities. It is sufficient for our purpose that all of them greatly deplored the evil and that they placed a provision in the Constitution which they supposed would gradually remove the disease by cutting off its source. This was the abolition of the slave trade. So general was conviction — the public determination — to abolish the African slave trade, that the provision which I have referred to as being placed in the Constitution, declared that it should not be abolished prior to the year 1808. A constitutional provision was necessary to prevent the people, through Congress, from putting a stop to the traffic immediately at the close of the war. Now, if slavery had been a good thing, would the Fathers of the Republic have taken a step calculated to diminish its beneficent influences among themselves, and snatch the boon wholly from their posterity? These communities, by their representatives in old Independence Hall, said to the whole world of men: 'We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' This was their majestic interpretation of the economy of the Universe. This was their lofty, and wise, and noble understanding of the justice of the Creator to His creatures. [Applause.] Yes, gentlemen, to all His creatures, to the whole great family of man. In their enlightened belief, nothing stamped with the Divine image and likeness was sent into the world to be trodden on, and degraded, and imbruted by its fellows. They grasped not only the whole race of man then living, but they reached forward and seized upon the farthest posterity. The erected a beacon to guide their children and their children's children, and the countless myriads who should inhabit the earth in other ages. Wise statesmen as they were, they knew the tendency of prosperity to breed tyrants, and so they established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, their posterity might look up again to the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began — so that truth, and justice, and mercy, and all the humane and Christian virtues might not be extinguished from the land; so that no man would hereafter dare to limit and circumscribe the great principles on which the temple of liberty was being built." [emphasis added]
[Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Volume II, p. 544-546 (August 17, 1858).]
For more of Lincoln's argument on what the Founders' believed with regard to unalienable rights, see the Lincoln-Douglas debates especially the 5th debate at Galesburg and the 7th debate at Alton.


George Berryman said...

Now you know why I call them National Revile ;)

terrance said...

Thanks for mentioning Derbyshire's piece, George. It needed to be refuted.

If we hadn't gone into Iraq, and Saddam was still in power, the Iraqis wouldn't be killing each other. They would be helping train and equip more 9/11 terrorists with all that great Oil for Food money. But, the argument that we are fighting terrorists in Iraq so that we won't have to fight them in the US is lost on Derbyshire.

George Berryman said...

In National Revile's "defense" some of their writers and editors have been lambasting Derbyshire at 'The Corner' for his asinine Iraq war view. You can find the posts intermixed with their *chuckle* pledge drive nonsense.

terrance said...

I read a little bit, and, of course, one hopes that Derbyshire would be in a small minority at NR.

What's sad is that NR, with all its bright spots, is no longer fun to read. Here's what blogger Colossus ( recently:

When I first started blogging I used to read the Corner faithfully, but now I find it a chore -- a chore I seldom perform.

Unfortunately, I have come to feel much the same way.