Printer friendly version

March 21, 2004

The Path Not Taken: Opportunity for Endless Dreaming

There may not be another pundit whom I've wanted to like more and wound up liking less than Jim Pinkerton. Don't know what it is — maybe because there were a few months in 2002 during which I watched Fox News Watch regularly and saw him as the decidedly unslick conservative counter to the previous, very smarmy liberal commentator.

But then came the war in Iraq, and some underlying ideological distinction brought Pinkerton to a separate conclusion from those who supported it, and all subsequent events have reinforced both sides in their beliefs. At this point, there's almost too much distance in basic view of the world to attempt much bridging; we're all just choirs singing to ourselves in separate rooms, with time coating the walls with soundproofing.

This, for example, is in tones that I can barely comprehend:

The lesson of Madrid was clear enough. Those Spanish troops currently hunkering down in Iraq, dodging snipers, could have been used instead to secure "soft targets" on the homefront, guarding Spain's borders and transport system.

Does Pinkerton really believe that the Spanish government — before March 11 — saw the options as between working with the United States in Iraq and strolling along train cars looking for backpacks? Frankly — although given his political affiliation, I'm more willing to leave open the possibility that I'm missing something crucial in his thinking — Pinkerton's implication that Aznar's transfer of a handful of troops to Iraq left a foreseeable security gap through which the terrorists snuck strikes me as either dumb or despicable.

Steve, of Absit Invidia, on which I found the link to this piece, says that Pinkerton is "what conservatives used to be." A curious suggestion, that, considering the hopeful view that Pinkerton seems to have of Spanish Socialists:

Here's a prediction: Even as he honors his campaign promise to withdraw his country's troops from Iraq, Zapatero will take obvious and commonsensical measures to improve Spain's homeland security. That is, he will tighten up on border enforcement, scrutinize aliens more closely and improve security around public places. And he will even work closely with allies in "Old Europe."

On the last point, Pinkerton is no doubt correct. However, we can only hope that the people of Spain don't find the flavor of socialistic "homeland security" to be disagreeable. Pinkerton seems awfully willing to expect what he sees as conservative policies from that particular political party. Then again, I can't help but have visions of socialists past upon reading this suggestion:

Indeed, Americans might wish to study Spain's alternative approach to national defense. Voters here might wonder why it's a good idea to have 130,000 American troops in Iraq - while our own borders are sparsely monitored and our own rail system is wide open to terror bombing.

Can you imagine the reaction were President Bush to order troops to "guard" commuter rails? I suspect those scare quotes would become part of the dictionary spelling of the word. And what other soft targets ought the President to fortify with U.S. military personnel? Malls? Mainstreets? For far too many people, including conservatives, it seems that the answer is retrospective: wherever an attack happens to occur, that's where the troops should have been. (Unless the terrorists actually kill them, in which case the soldiers shouldn't have been there to begin with.)

As I said, there's too much distance between worldviews, at this point, to build bridges. When Pinkerton asks whether "the invasion of Iraq really made the United States safer," I give an unhesitant "yes." Even putting that aside, however, it ought to be clear that our options are not, and never were, the same as Spain's. We are the target on the hill, as indicated by September 11 and all of the attacks that preceded it. Were we to pull ourselves into defensive mode, the strategy would quickly become permanent, and increasingly difficult to maintain.

In this, Pinkerton has the luxury of those whose suggestion represents the path not taken: an endless opportunity for unrealistic speculation.

In keeping with the idea of diverged worlds among conservatives, I find my head shaking in bewilderment when, after quoting a report about the most recently coronated media star, former White House staffer Richard Clarke, Absit Invidia Steve writes (emphasis in original):

In a matter of seconds the folks at National Review will be firing up their word processors to label Mr. Clarke an appeaser and they'll, doubtless, call him soft on terrorism - so take a quick look at his record. ... Yeah, this guy has traitor written all over him.

I realize that Steve is using NR emblematically, here, but his sense of its M.O. is entirely incompatible with mine. In fact, what NR did was to quote "an insider" offering a much more detailed version of Clarke's record. (In this post and the one above it.)

Posted by Justin Katz at March 21, 2004 6:25 PM
International Affairs

Clarke's insistance that there is no link between al-Qaeda and Iraq is quite interesting - one wonders if he believed that to be true in 1998 when he advised President Clinton to bomb the al-Shifa plant in Sudan to prevent bin Laden from acquiring VX nerve gas from Iraq. So is he lying now or was he then?

Posted by: Dan Darling at March 21, 2004 6:59 PM

The lesson of Madrid was clear enough. Those Spanish troops currently hunkering down in Iraq, dodging snipers, could have been used instead to secure "soft targets" on the homefront, guarding Spain's borders and transport system.
Spain has a standing Army of about 200K? I'll just bet the 1300 they have in Iraq would have made ALL the difference!

Best they send them to Ceuta and Melilla to beef up the 19K they have stationed in North Africa.
The Jews that fled there from the Inquisition 500 years ago now seemed forced to flee back to Spain from the Islamofacists there. Wonder if Al Quedar will take a hand there too?

Posted by: Dan Kauffman at March 22, 2004 8:40 AM

Justin, if you want a far more despicable example of what a conservative "used to be," just look at Pat Buchanan. On Sean Hanity's program last week, Buchanan *dismissed* the possibility that al-Qaeda had or was interested in obtaining nukes. That is grotesque irresponsibility. Then again, it shouldn't be surprising. Buchanan has become a political whack job, linking with a Socialist on Perot's "Reform" ticket in 2000, downplaying Arab terror while sticking to his de facto anti-Semitism.

Buchanan is to the Jihadists what Charles Lindbergh was to the Nazis and Ezra Pound was to the Italian Fascists: a willing dupe. He should be regarded as a traitor.

Posted by: Joseph D'Hippolito at March 23, 2004 2:38 AM

To Butch Rosal,

Sorry to delete your comment, but I simply can't have 10,000-word essays posted in my comments sections. If you'd like to paraphrase it and/or offer a link to the full piece, you're more than welcome, but I have to draw the line somewhere.

Posted by: Justin Katz at October 4, 2004 4:23 PM