At the end of last month, William Kristol, in the Weekly Standard, expressed editorial indignation at the publication by the Nation and the New Republic of accounts of alleged brutal and callous behavior by US troops, evidencing the traditional defeatist meme of the emotionally and morally debilitating effect upon American forces of, as The Nation puts it,
a dark and even depraved enterprise, one that bears a powerful resemblance to other misguided and brutal colonial wars of occupation.
This sort of thing is par for the course for the (traditionally-Stalinist) Nation, of course. But Kristol is appalled that the Neoliberal New Republic has been playing the same “demonizing US forces” game, publishing an account, titled Shock Troops by a currently serving soldier in Iraq who pseudononymously and
colorfully describes three sets of alleged misdeeds he and his buddies committed in Baghdad: They humiliate a woman in a military dining hall who has been disfigured in an IED explosion (the woman “wore an unrecognizable tan uniform, so I couldn’t really tell whether she was a soldier or a civilian contractor”); they discover human remains and one private spends a day and night playing around with a child’s skull (“which even had chunks of hair”), amusing his fellow soldiers; and one private routinely drives a Bradley Fighting Vehicle recklessly and uses the vehicle to kill stray dogs.
Kristol makes the obvious point that, despite all their protestations to the contrary, the anti-war left, including its representatives in the elite branches of the MSM, is doing the precise opposite of supporting the troops.
Having turned against a war that some of them supported, the left is now turning against the troops they claim still to support. They sense that history is progressing away from them–that these soldiers, fighting courageously in a just cause, could still win the war, that they are proud of their service, and that they will be future leaders of this country. They are not “Shock Troops.” They are our best and bravest, fighting for all of us against a brutal enemy in a difficult and frustrating war. They are the 9/11 generation. The left slanders them. We support them. More than that, we admire them.
Stung by Kristol’s criticism, Jonathan Chait, at New Republic, has the unmitigated chutzah to try to explain why publishing (what were subsequently established to be false) contemptible, and ultimately trivial, accusations dishonoring US troops was not treason or defeatism at all. Those slanderous and false accusations were published to serve no political agenda, Chait assures us (and his own morally debilitated conscience), but “merely for the edification of readers.”
There is more than one way to support the troops, Chair explains:
the way you support the troops is contingent upon your analysis of the war. If you think the war is succeeding, then supporting the war is a way of supporting the troops. If you think the war is doomed to failure, though, proposing that more troops die in vain is not a way of supporting them.
I am reminded of the scene late in Whit Stillman’s The Last Days of Disco (1998), in which Jimmy Steinway argues to Des McGrath that one could betray someone (motivated by other worthy considerations), and still be a good friend to him, the way Brutus was a good friend to Caesar. “You call Brutus stabbing Caesar in the back the act of a good friend?” Des explodes indignantly.
But Chait has the decisive last word: Watch out what you say, Kristol. We (the Washington Establishment) can ostracize you.
Kristol’s good standing in the Washington establishment depends on the wink-and-nod awareness that he’s too smart to believe his own agitprop. Perhaps so. But, in the end, a fake thug is not much better than the real thing.