Monday, June 23, 2008

Redefining "chickenhawk"

The New York Times boasts, if that's the word, a rather pathetic stable of op-ed writers. There's Tom Friedman (flat-earther, "give war a chance", "France is our enemy", "Suck. On. This.") There's Maureen Dowd, prone to bestowing cute nicknames on her subjects (somewhat like Dubya), but with little substance. There's Paul Krugman, who generally mistakes polemics for argument, likes to stray far out of his field of economics (and these days fails to convince even when sticking to that field), and whose distaste of Barack Obama has inspired him to a series of absurd columns lately.

But one name leads the rest: the Times' latest hire, Bill Kristol. Some days ago he got in a twist over a commencement lecture that Barack Obama gave at Wesleyan University because Obama asked the listening students to consider public service, but did not mention the military as a possible form of service. "He felt no need to remind students of a different kind of public service — one that entails more risks than community organizing. He felt no need to tell the graduating seniors in the lovely groves of Middletown that they should be grateful to their peers who were far away facing dangers on behalf of their country"

Today he outdoes that, with an attack on He's talking about a TV spot by that group, portraying a mother with her infant son Alex, telling John McCain that she doesn't want Alex to be stuck in a 100-year-war in Iraq. That's enough to set him off on an increasingly incoherent rant: "the United States has an all-volunteer Army. Alex won’t be drafted... Unless we enter a world without enemies and without war, we will need young men and women willing to risk their lives for our nation.... The ad boldly embraces a vision of a selfish and infantilized America, suggesting that military service and sacrifice are unnecessary and deplorable relics of the past. And the sole responsibility of others."

A reader would be forgiven for guessing that Kristol had served his time in the military, but as others have pointed out, he never did -- though he became eligible in age during the Vietnam war -- and never explained why not. Nor did Kristol do anything else particularly memorable: any claim to fame he has can be traced to his being the son of his father, Irving Kristol.

But it is Kristol's ability to twist words that is breathtaking. Obama mentioned public service and not the military, therefore he must be against enlisting. The woman in does not want her son to end up in an unnecessary and criminal war in Iraq, therefore she must not want her son to join the military. And so on.

Not only won't you hear from Kristol that he himself steered clear of the military, but you won't hear that

  • Even with a volunteer army, many families are not as well off as the Kristols were, and the military is, if nothing else, an attractive career option.
  • Though there is no draft now, there is increasing talk that the military is overstretched and a draft in the future may be hard to avoid.
  • Many Americans do want to serve in the military, but they want it to be in defence of their country: not fighting an unprovoked war overseas to satisfy the interests of the neoconservative chickenhawks or the oil industry.
  • The war on Iraq was sold to the public on false pretences, exaggerated and cherrypicked evidence, and a systematic silencing of all dissenting voices within the administration and elsewhere.
  • Kristol himself was one of the war's more enthusiastic cheerleaders and has not explained why, given what most Americans know now and what most of the world already knew back in 2003, the war was necessary.

A natural interpretation of the ad would be that the mother thinks it possible that her son will join the military, out of patriotism or as a career option, but does not want his service to be misused for the chickenhawks' benefit. Clearly Kristol cannot allow his readers to see it that way. So he twists himself in knots explaining why the ad is unpatriotic.

Kristol's appointment as a NYT columnist met with many protests. If I had been a subscriber I would have cancelled in protest. However, even during the NYT's failed TimesSelect experiment, I was not tempted: Kristol's fellow-columnists do not impress either, except by comparison.


Anonymous said...

first tavleen singh then maureen dowd, one sees a trend here...

Rahul Siddharthan said...

I suspect the pattern you see is that both are women. So you'd be disappointed I didn't name more women above (that's because I was talking of NYT columnists).
So here goes: Varsha Bhosle, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin. Happy?