The article by David Brooks

The article by David Brooks that Rocket Man posted earlier today is well worth reading. I was particularly taken with Brooks’ observation that President Bush’s liberal critics are “playing culture war” and not really “arguing about Iraq.” Ever since Trunk posted articles by Mark Helprin and Angelo Codevilla denouncing Bush’s efforts against terrorism as a “failure” and a “phony,” I have been thinking that some conservatives too are having trouble distinguishing between the culture war and the war against terrorism.
There clearly is a relationship between between how well conservatives are faring in the culture war and how well equipped the nation is to combat terrorism. The inroads made by tendencies that go by names like multiculturalism, multilateralism, and political correctness have made it more difficult to prosecute the war on terrorism. Ten years of sponsoring the Middle East “peace process” haven’t helped either. Nor have decades of under-funding the military. If conservatives were doing better in the culture war, we wouldn’t be searching non-Arab grandmothers in airports and we wouldn’t have wasted time and energy by sending Colin Powell to Israel to negotiate with Arafat. Who knows, Colin Powell might not even be the Secretary of State.
It is certainly proper, moreover, for conservatives to criticize President Bush whenever the tendencies described above cause his administration to be diverted from effective action against terrorism (although conservatives should not ignore Bush’s progress in overcoming some of these tendencies). But Helprin and Codevilla go much further. To Helprin, Bush has already “failed the test of September 11.” To Codevilla, his war on terrorism is a “phony,” deserving nothing more than a “postmortem.” Helprin and Codevilla concede defeat to terrorism even though there has been no successful follow-up attack against the United States; even though we have toppled the regime that most directly supported Al Qaeda and will probably soon topple the regime most capable of providing lethal support; and even though we may well have killed the head of Al Qaeda and undoubtedly have killed and captured many Al Qaeda members including some high-ranking ones.
How, on this record, do Helprin and Codevilla establish that the war is failing? The same way that, according to David Brooks, Bush’s liberal critics attack his policy on Iraq — by “repeating the hatreds [they have] cultivated.” In Codevilla’s case, it is hatred of, among other things, the vision of an orderly multicultural international community, the peace process, our failure to support the Shah of Iran, our deference to Saudi Arabia, and the way the CIA gathers intelligence. In Helprin’s case, the list is similar. He even invokes the war in Vietnam, which Brooks implies is also the origin of the liberal hatreds at play in the Iraq debate.
Codevilla and Helprin are right to despise most of the tendencies they despise. They are also justified in pointing out how these tendencies interfere with the fight against terrorism. But they are on shakier ground when they assume that the war on terrorism is being lost, or will be lost, due to these tendencies. Conservatives should be careful not to commit the same fallacy as Brooks’ liberals. To borrow Brooks’ words, our demons should not occupy our entire field of vision, leaving no room for analysis of anything beyond, such as what is happening in the real world.


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