Peggy gets it wrong

Watch closely, now — you especially, Mary: Here’s how we disagree with someone respectfully.

You’ll recall that I had nice things to say about Peggy Noonan. My attitude on that point is unchanged.

But she was 180 degrees wrong when she wrote "He’s Got Guts," in defense of Chuck Hagel. (In this, my attitude is ALSO unchanged.) She quotes at some length his speech in favor of the spineless resolution griping about the Surge, but doing nothing about it — except, of course, signal to the enemies those 21,500 Americans will be fighting that if they just kill a few more of our boys (and yes, for those of you who are sticklers, sometimes girls, but in this case we’re talking combat infantry), then we’ll probably cave, because we are SO divided about this already.

She includes in her excerpt this quote, which I had read elsewhere in forming my previous judgment:

"Sure it’s tough. Absolutely. And I think all 100 senators ought to be on the line on this. What do you believe? What are you willing to support? What do you think? Why are you elected? If you wanted a safe job, go sell shoes."

Precisely. So if you don’t want the troops going, stop them. Don’t holler, as they climb on the plane, that you really don’t think this is a good idea, but you’re not going to do anything about it.

If that’s your idea of being a stand-up guy, maybe you should be selling shoes.

Yeah, I get Peggy’s point about all the falseness and cowardice in Washington. But how that resolution is a departure from that rule is beyond me.

And no, I don’t want him to stop the troops from going. That would be disastrous. But passing a resolution saying they shouldn’t go, but taking no concrete action, is contemptible.

15 thoughts on “Peggy gets it wrong

  1. Doug

    Just to be clear, Brad, it’s the resolution that is “spineless” and “contemptible”, not the people who wrote it or support it. Right?
    Because calling a person spineless and contemptible would be bad form and worthy of deleting a post. Right?

  2. Brad Warthen

    Yes, Doug. I don’t know Chuck Hagel. I’m talking about the resolution.
    In other words, Mary’s right, despite the crude remark at the end. “Spineless” modifies “resolution.” “Contemptible” defines “taking” — I think. I haven’t diagrammed a sentence since the 7th grade. Any English majors out there?
    If you really want to be critical of my civility, jump on the word “cowardice.” That would normally be a red flag, especially since Sen. Hagel is a veteran. But I wasn’t applying the term to him; I was just citing what Ms. Noonan said, and she was describing a general state of affairs in Washington, not ascribing it to an individual. All I said was that this action by no means pulled us above the norm that she describes in strong terms. It just seems like business as usual.
    One thing I DON’T want to do is bait members of Congress into taking disastrous action — such as actually cutting off funding.

  3. Doug

    Now I get it… it’s okay to say someone’s ideas are stupid but not the person. Or to call the act of writing about staying the course in Iraq while not putting oneself on the firing line cowardly is fine but calling the person who wrote it a coward is not.
    It’s a fine line. A very, very, fine line. Like the line between hypocrisy and the truth.

  4. Uncle Elmer

    Brad, Hagel is a good guy, so I’m going to have to quote you here (from “the surge” column):
    “We need someone in charge who is able to communicate to the nation why we need to be in Iraq, how we need to proceed, and why that course of action can work. He needs to persuade fair-minded people to believe him, and to follow.
    Of course, he has to have a good plan to start with. If I had heard him tell about it first, I would doubt that he does.”
    True and wise words! Sadly, I heard the plan from Bush first in his televised speech. So as you suggest, I doubt! I believe Gen. Patreus is smart and will be as effective as possible – but as you point out, his boss has lost the credibility game. So what should Hagel do? He’s a professional politician, he’s not going to opt to pull the plug without firing a warning shot across Bush’ bow. Nobody in Congress will (OK almost nobody), they’re all too good at politics to do that. Also, the Senate guys are smart enough that when they move against somebody, they move en masse so there’s no easy target. Witness good old Arlen Specter reminding Bush he’s NOT “the decider.” So Hagel gets in a kick, Specter gets in a kick, what’s next?
    My guess is that this isn’t a prelude to a general call for withdrawal, it’s beginning the arm-twisting to force diplomacy back onto the field. With any other president it would be a good strategy to get that back on the table; I don’t trust this one to have the sense.

  5. bud

    Brad has me convinced. We should move toward a BINDING resolution that requires a withdrawl. I believe Russ Feingold has offered just such a resolution. But in politics this very correct action will not be taken. Sadly hundreds more will die needlessly because of our agonizingly slow political process. So given the political reality of the situation the non-binding approach is the best we can hope for, now.
    In 6 months after the surge fails the pragmatists will be in a stronger position. At that time if no stronger is taken by congress, then I too will brand congress as contemptible. (Whether I do this using gerund clauses or just plain garden variety clauses remains to be determined.)

  6. Frank

    “One thing I DON’T want to do is bait members of Congress into taking disastrous action — such as actually cutting off funding”
    One is tempted to point out that voting for this war to begin with was a disasterous action, necessitating that Senators like Chuck Hagel pick one of a series of very bad options for the US’s future conduct in the Middle East.
    No, it’s probably better to criticize a senator for not moving to withhold funding for the war, while saying withholding funding would be disasterous. That wouldn’t be morally sophistical at all.

  7. Randy

    I understand the possible consequences of pulling out and leaving a vacuum. Regardless, this is not a black and white issue unless you are suggesting we stay no matter the cost.
    To make my point, consider two extreme scenarios. Would you support our continued presence if complete civil war erupted and our troops were caught in the crossfire with an exponential increase in American deaths caused by IRAQIS? Would you support staying if the Iraqi government vehemently pushed for us to leave even if the result would lead to the collapse of the government?
    In either situation, I believe you would concur that we’d have no choice but to leave even if chaos would result. Hence, we now have shades of gray. Staying is not simply a function of creating stability – black and white as you seem to suggest.
    What if the scenarios were not quite that strong? Perhaps the civil war intensifies but is not an all out war and American deaths increase steadily. Maybe the government doesn’t explicitly tell us to leave, but they stop cooperating completely and show no signs of taking over security.
    My point is our decision to stay is not based only on creating stability or avoiding the vacuum of power. The argument “we have no choice but to succeed” is faulty. You can argue that currently the cost of staying outweighs the cost of leaving. You can not argue that we have no choice.

  8. bud

    The premise for staying (in Iraq) is that if we leave both Iraq and the entire middle-east region would become more chaotic and ultimately more dangerous to United States security. It is further suggested our economic interests would be harmed by a drastic increase in oil prices. The final argument suggests the terrorists would be emboldened once we leave and that terrorism in this new environment would increase.
    All of this is nothing but speculation. There isn’t any real evidence to support any of these claims. So in effect we’re remaining in the middle of a civil war that is resulting in the deaths of 10s of thousands of people for reasons that are little more than speculation. As Randy points out the original arguments for going into Iraq have all been proven false. So why should we believe the speculation of those who got it so wrong in the first place?
    John Kerry and Hillary Clinton now recognize their faith in the administration was misguided and are re-thinking the whole thing. In the end we will come home, that much is clear. So why wait? Let’s end this thing now.

  9. Ready to Hurl

    The real short-circuiting of logic here is that Brad relies on the analysis from the same people that (either mistakenly or purposefully) misdiagnosed the situation from the beginning.
    As Biden says, show me one instance that the Vice-President has been right.

  10. Ready to Hurl

    I still optimistically hold out hope that Brad will recognize Noonan and Kathleen Parker as rightwing hacks.
    Only a crass Rethuglican hack could work a tribute to Barbaro into slamming Jane Fonda’s anti-war speech and John Kerry’s Davos comments.
    BTW, why didn’t the Bush Administration deign to send representatives to Davos? My guess is that they’re all busy lawyering up in response to the Scooter Libby trial disclosures.
    Wild animals are most dangerous when cornered and desperate. Look out Iran. To quote Rethuglicans during their coup/impeachment attempt: “Wag the Dog! Wag the Dog!”

  11. bud

    When the idea of war with Iran first came up I had a good laugh. Where would the troops, domestic support and money come from? But over the last few days my amusement is turning to horror! It appears the Mad Decider may actually launch a third midde-east war. Let’s hope I’m just being a pessimist.

  12. Phillip

    I’ve pretty much backed off from commenting here, because Brad, your recent postings about Iraq seem to be going to a kind of extreme, as your obvious disappointment over the course of events takes hold. You speak of our country being divided—actually, it seems more united to me now than at any time in the last two or three years. When you have Biden and Warner, Feingold and Hagel, the Baker Commission etc. etc. and 80% of the country on the same page, seems that’s a pretty united view.
    However, I offer once again to point out the illogical basis of arguing against the Congressional resolution simply because the insurgents and terrorists would like us to leave. Yes, it’s not an ideal outcome, but any encouragement this gives terrorists is not the fault of those favoring redeployment or withdrawal; it’s the fault of those who proposed this ill-conceived distraction from the so-called “War on Terror” in the first place.
    It is not tenable to maintain an illogical and perhaps immoral position simply because reversing that position may give some kind of a morale boost to terrorists. Effective reduction of terrorism depends on a host of concrete, specific moves—military, diplomatic, economic. Terrorism is not a nation-state where damaging their morale will lead to an unwillingness to pursue their ends. We know, in fact, that Osama preferred W’s re-election for the precise reason that he knew that Bush’s buttons could be predictably pushed, that in Bush, he had the perfect opponent who would agree to cast the fight in the same apocalyptic terms as he. In fact, I’m not so sure that Al-Qaeda and some of the insurgents don’t welcome this small “surge.” The advantages for them may well outweigh the disadvantages. So the arguments against the surge are strategic as well as moral.
    The reasons why Congress cannot in practicality cutoff funding for the troops have been well-chronicled by Biden and others who you used to admire. The resolutions are a first step at least. If Bush/Cheney make further moves to damage the interests of this country, perhaps greater steps will be taken.

  13. bud

    Phillip, I’m coming around to the view that congress has an obligation to pull the plug on this misguided adventure rather than debate non-binding resolutions endlessly. You made all the correct arguments for this position in your first paragraph.

  14. Brad Warthen

    Well, bud, I’m glad you agree that non-binding is pointless.
    And Phillip, here’s the problem — “Biden and Warner, Feingold and Hagel” are NOT united in any meaningful sense. Agreeing that they don’t like the Petraeus course that Bush has chosen doesn’t mean they agree on a plan of their own. In fact, Biden is the only one who has been advocating a plan of his own.
    The choice on the table is the Petraeus plan, and doing nothing — which means, the status quo. If Biden or someone else gets an actual PLAN out on the floor, then it is possible to have a “debate on Iraq.”
    Until then, it is just a very dangerous form of obstructionism, preserving the status quo.
    Please, set aside what you think about the war, and what I think about the war. Surely you can see that what I just described above is true. If we can’t agree about that, the situation is truly hopeless.
    And yes, Phillip, the nation is divided. We are fighting a war; Americans are dying in a war, and we’re playing parliamentary games about whether to pass resolutions that everyone acknowledges would accomplish nothing. That’s about as bad, and as deadly, as division gets.
    As I say, if you want to end the war, let’s debate THAT. If the country has truly made up its mind — something that members of Congress are acutely (and excessively, for a republic) sensitive to — then your point of view will carry the day, and the soldiers will come marching home.
    In the meantime, don’t undermine the plan under which our soldiers WILL be fighting, until someone comes up with something else.

  15. bud

    The tragedy of this war is that even though the people voted overwhelmingly to end the conflict the voice of the people cannot be turned into action overnight while we have a president who is hidebound to “stay the course”. The arithmetic of the Senate virtually guarantees slow movement. In the last election 33 senator seats were up for grabs, less than a third of the total. Of those 9 were Republicans, 22 Democrats, 1 neo-socialist and 1 neo-republican (Leiberman whose vote total declined sharply from 2000). Some of the 9 Republicans (e.g. Olympia Snowe from Maine) are not staunch supporters of the Iraq war. Of the 33 Senators just elected an overwhelming percentage favor withdrawal. Yet the overall Senate remains virtually tied. For anything significant to happen at least 60 senators must agree. Hence the watered-down resolution.
    Likewise in the House. Even though it’s extremely difficult to defeat incumbents in that gerrymandered body, a whopping 31 seats changed parties. The House is now the more progressive chamber of congress and will likely pass a stronger resolution opposing the war.
    Let’s not call this the Petraeus plan. It’s the Bush plan. Or more likely some ultra right-wing think tank’s plan. Bush just happened to find someone gullible enough to serve as the front man for a warmed over version of what is basically the same failed stay-the-course.
    If I had my way I’d bring the troops home now. But if the best congress can do is express it’s dissatisfaction with the president then I guess I’ll reluctantly support that. Hopefully that will be the first tiny step toward what should happen.

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