Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Little Public Introspection Wouldn't Kill David Frum


A Little Public Introspection Wouldn't Kill David Frum:

Frum, today, explaining why he wouldn't have voted for the Iraq war in 2002:

For Americans, the issue was not Saddam's badness, but his nuclear weapons program. Knowing that the nuclear program was not a real threat, the invasion was too large a commitment. The world is a better place without Saddam, but as with everything, the question is one of costs and benefits. The costs to the U.S. were too high, the benefits to the U.S. too few.

Frum, eight years ago, explaining why opponents of the Iraq war are only a few degrees away from anti-semitism:

The antiwar conservatives aren't satisfied merely to question the wisdom of an Iraq war. Questions are perfectly reasonable, indeed valuable. There is more than one way to wage the war on terror, and thoughtful people will naturally disagree about how best to do it, whether to focus on terrorist organizations like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah or on states like Iraq and Iran; and if states, then which state first?

But the antiwar conservatives have gone far, far beyond the advocacy of alternative strategies. They have made common cause with the left-wing and Islamist antiwar movements in this country and in Europe. They deny and excuse terror. They espouse a potentially self-fulfilling defeatism. They publicize wild conspiracy theories. And some of them explicitly yearn for the victory of their nation's enemies.

It's sometimes said, with some justification, that the right seeks converts while the left seeks apostates. And I don't mean this post like that. Nor do I mean it to embarass Frum. We all write dumb stuff sometimes, especially when we believe something passionately.

What I mean to say is that I remember Frum's 2003 National Review cover story, "Unpatriotic Conservatives," very vividly. It was barely a month before the invasion, and Frum decided to organize a civil war within conservatism. Some of the people he goes after in the piece, like my old boss (long story) Taki Theodoracopulos, really are antisemites.

But Frum's piece did not draw very sharp distinctions. It did not rigorously distinguish between those with reservations about the Iraq war qua the war and those who opposed the war because of darker motivations. And in that slippage, it encapsulated an ugly period in American discourse, where fear and demagoguery substituted for reason. Its effect was to chill the opposition to a war that Frum now considers ill-regarded. My colleague at the time, Lawrence F. Kaplan, engaged in a dizzying, perverse bit of slander by asserting that a "chorus" of antiwar criticism was in fact antisemitic -- and it was those antisemites who were trying to stifle the discourse, not Kaplan himself.

And so this is what I mean. It's cool for Frum to no longer believe these follies. Perhaps he could provide us with some explanation for what led him to change his mind, and what his cooler head now makes of his earlier piece. It's not about relitigating the past; after all, I was a dumb-ass 22 year old war supporter myself. It's about grappling with your mistakes so you don't make them again.

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