(It’s also the case that the anti-Semitism of some on the Right who were critical of the war we were headed into in 2002 enabled many of us to dismiss all of their arguments). ~Rod Dreher

I will get to responding to this in a minute.  First, some background to the post quoted above.  Rod has taken a lot of heat lately because of his recent essay on NPR’s All Things Considered.  In it, he expressed his disillusionment with the war and also with Mr. Bush and the GOP when Republican competence, which was something he had taken for granted because of past experience, completely vanished in the last several years.  For someone who had come around to the idea that the GOP was the party of serious foreign policy, the execution of the Iraq war proved particularly shocking and discouraging.  

The responses have been coming in since then.  First there was Goldberg responding with the usual ignorance and snide remarks, and then there were true lunatics like this guy.  At the same time, Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald took an interest.  This debate has prompted more posts and some reader feedback to Rod, which prompted the post from which the above quote was taken.  Now, to the response. 

In the oral essay, Rod said:

As President Bush marched the country to war with Iraq, even some voices on the Right warned that this was a fool’s errand. I dismissed them angrily. I thought them unpatriotic.

But almost four years later, I see that I was the fool. In Iraq, this Republican President for whom I voted twice has shamed our country with weakness and incompetence, and the consequences of his failure will be far, far worse than anything Carter did. 

In this post he wrote:

(It’s also the case that the anti-Semitism of some on the Right who were critical of the war we were headed into in 2002 enabled many of us to dismiss all of their arguments).

In other words, as I read these separate posts, Rod thought the conservative opponents of the war in 2002 to be unpatriotic and has since been proven wrong.  Yet in the later post he refers to the supposed anti-Semitism of a nebulous “some on the Right who were critical of the war” (who are we talking about?) as if that equally baseless, equally offensive charge had some merit to it such that it bore mentioning in the context of explaining why he and others had ignored some of the battier opponents of the war.  What exactly constituted this supposed anti-Semitism?  Who among the targeted “unpatriotic conservatives” was guilty of it, and who wasn’t?  Is it not the case that this supposed anti-Semitism was just as imaginary as the claims of paleoconservatives’ lack of patriotism?  Might it be that this “anti-Semitism” consisted of nothing more than criticism of the State of Israel, much as paleos’ supposed lack of patriotism consisted of criticism of the U.S. government and the government’s foreign policy?  In other words, weren’t a number of the charges directed at conservative opponents of the Iraq invasion the result of a commonplace nationalist confusion of the people of a country and their government according to which criticism of the latter was taken as hatred of the former?     

Something doesn’t add up.  On the one hand, there is what Rod said on NPR and wrote earlier this month and on the other what he wrote in this more recent post.  Some clarification would be very much appreciated.  Let me explain why I think this is important. 

First, let’s recap who the opposition on the Right was in 2002-03.  Most of the people on the Right warning against the invasion of Iraq on moral (the war would be unjust), historical (it would end badly; an alien culture would not be transformed), philosophical (conservatives ought to be more prone to oppose war than support it), patriotic (it wasn’t our war to fight) and even strategic (it would severely damage American and allied interests in the region and around the world) grounds fell into three broad categories: paleoconservatives, libertarians of various stripes and a relative handful of foreign policy realists.  There was some overlap between these groups (e.g., there were some realists who were also libertarians) and these people tended to move in the same circles anyway, but that was the conservative opposition, c. 2002.  

As readers of Eunomia are well aware,  National Review by way of David Frum denounced leading figures from at least two of the aforementioned groups, erroneously lumping them all together as paleoconservatives, labeling them and, by extension, everyone who agreed with them (including me and probably quite a few of the regular readers of this blog) unpatriotic and worse.  Part of the way that Frum accomplished this intellectually empty and morally dubious feat was to smear the entire group with generic charges of anti-Americanism (a charge to which anyone who does not praise the empire is liable to be subjected) as well as racism and anti-Semitism.   

This was basically SOP for a neocon hit job, but it raises a serious question: if a key part of Frum’s indictment against the “unpatriotic conservatives” is that paleos are raging anti-Semites, are we supposed to take Rod’s remark to mean that he thinks, at least as far as “some” of the critics are concerned, Frum was basically right about this all along?  If so, why does he think that?  If he does, what should the editors of NR and Frum apologise for?  When Rod has said that NR owes the gentlemen so scurrilously attacked in Frum’s piece (”Pat Buchanan et al.”) an apology for calling them unpatriotic, should they only apologise for the parts of the article specifically about the Iraq war, since it is the paleos’ opposition to the war has been vindicated?  Should they not have to apologise for the entire article, since the entire thing was trash? 

Let’s step back for a minute.  The antiwar right, as of late 2002, had three main organs for disseminating conservative and libertarian antiwar views in this country: Chronicles, The American Conservative and Antiwar.com.  The gentlemen associated with these three (with the exception of Bob Novak, who speedily denounced just about everybody else as soon as he could) were the targets of the condemnation and hate of the conservative movement’s major magazines and leading pundits; they were also routinely accused of anti-Semitism because they had the gall to notice extreme pro-Israel elements in this country as being some of the most vocal, strident and influential backers of the war (just as they had been unjustly accused when opposing the first Gulf War and noticing the same pro-Israel activists pushing for that war).  The truth of this observation was never denied (in fact, it could not be denied, which is why no attempt to do so was ever made), but simply passed by–what mattered was not that someone had correctly identified some of the leading warmongers as extreme pro-Israel activists, but the motives of those who would even bother to mention such a thing. 

This tactic of flinging the charge of anti-Semitism has usually only succeeded against people on the Right in America.  For one thing, for various reasons it has been the strange fate of most conservatives in America to hitch themselves to a vehemently pro-Israel approach to the Near East and it has become a cause for exclusion from the “respectable” quarters of the movement to say things unduly critical and true about the State of Israel.  Observers on the left here and abroad, not similarly committed to the cause of Israeli nationalism for other reasons ranging from the admirable (a desire for regional peace) to the fairly mad (leftover anti-colonialism and sympathy for jihadis), were relatively more free to acknowledge the close ties of neoconservatives to hard-line Likud politics in Israel and were able to draw some of the reasonable conclusions from this alliance of interests.  Since many leftists and a great many Europeans across the spectrum take it as almost axiomatic that the Israeli center and right are generally profoundly wrong about how Israel could best achieve peace with her neighbours, they find it much easier to believe that an American war of aggression in the Near East has something to do with people who are supportive of Likud and their sorts of equally aggressive policies vis-a-vis Palestinians.  It is even easier to believe this when it happens to be the obvious truth.  Observers in Israel have been relatively more free to note that neoconservative advocacy for the Iraq war was being done out of their (as it turns out, completely wrong) idea that invading Iraq would help secure Israel and bring peace to the Near East.  (Amusingly, the depth of neocon error on this point has since been used as proof that the neocons were never really pro-Israel and that no one could have ever advocated for the Iraq war with Israel’s interests in mind, since the belief that an Iraq invasion would be good for Israel is, as we can all see today, quite insane–yet it is nonetheless what many prominent advocates for the war believed in 2002-03.) 

With the government lacking anything like a real rationale for an invasion throughout 2002, rightist opponents of the invasion in 2002 such as myself assumed that attacking Iraq for the sake of Israel was almost the only discernible reason for why Mr. Bush was preparing the war.  Failing that, it really seemed to make no sense at all.  It might be worth noting here, as an aside, that the defensiveness of war supporters on this point is amazing, since their efforts in actively denying that Israel has had anything to do with the reasons for their support for the invasion suggest that they assume the American public would turn against any war that was being openly fought, even in part, for the security (real or imagined) of Israel.  There is a strange lack of confidence in the public’s willingness to support the country that these same war supporters regard as our “reliable ally” in the region, which is all the more bizarre when these same people take it as axiomatic in every other foreign policy debate that “the American people” support Israel.   

Strangely, today many of the same people who denounced the paleoconservatives take it as almost a given that we should attack Iran because of the threat it poses to Israel.  They are not even embarrassed to say it quite openly: the reason why we should start a war with Iran is because Ahmadinejad has threatened Israel with special vehemence and fanaticism and has therefore gone beyond the pale.  Presumably, however, if one of the paleos were to observe that a forthcoming attack on Iran was being done for Israel’s benefit, we would be condemned again as anti-Semites.  (This is usually because we follow this identical observation with an argument for why it is not America’s fight and that our wars should be fought in our national interest, which is supposedly the wrong and immoral answer.). 

Such charges of anti-Semitism over the years have really not had much to do with claiming (much less proving) anyone’s prejudice against Jewish people.  (Such a charge could never be proved in any case, since it is entirely baseless and despicable.)  They are instead the charges that you make in a foreign policy debate against those who oppose interventionist wars, almost regardless of where they are taking place, because there is an undercurrent in all interventionist argument (revealed by the constant obsession with WWII references and analogies) that says, “People who disagree with us today about the ‘new Hitler’ and the new Holocausts are the people who would have stopped us from fighting Hitler and ending the Holocaust.  Ergo, all our opponents are anti-Semites, because we assume most everyone who opposed U.S. entry into WWII were also anti-Semites.”  The very Bolshevik nature of this kind of rhetorical tactic–I say Bolshevik since this was precisely the sort of rhetorical tactic used by Trotsky et al. to try to discredit various nationalists and other anticommunists–is also its peculiar strength.  It succeeds more often than not in convincing people to not look at the truth of what is being said about someone, and it succeeds in convincing them not to look at the merits of the argument at hand.  Instead, it allows you to declare an entire political position to be inherently immoral because of the supposed prejudices of its adherents.  This is an awful way to engage in debate, since it takes for granted that your opponent is arguing in bad faith and also assumes, even if the charges of prejudice were true, that a prejudiced person cannot make perfectly valid and important arguments, which is quite obviously untrue.  People interested in understanding and truth will look to those things first.  Those interested in politically correct moral poses will place all emphasis on whether or not an interlocutor strikes the appropriate poses.  Next to this, truth is a distant second.  The latter method is the one favoured by commissars and the controllers of party discipline.  I implore everyone to reject this entirely.        

The hatred directed against these three centers of rightist dissent was fueled and aided by these spurious, disgusting accusations of anti-Semitism, since those who hurled this accusation knew that if they could tar opponents of the war with such a radioactive label–no matter how false the charge–they could effectively shut down all opposition on the Right through just this kind of intimidation.  The goal, as with almost all labeling, was control and exclusion of enemies.  The truth of the claims was not nearly so important as the effect the claims had on the dynamic of the debate.  In foreign policy debates this particular label possesses even greater power, since it was used to such powerful effect to damn the America First Committee in a similarly slimy and dishonest way and has to some degree even entered into the cultural fabric of the nation.  Because of decades of leftist and internationalist badgering over “isolationist” opposition to entry into WWII, Americans on the Right have felt a particular sensitivity to the charge of anti-Semitism because, as leftists and internationalists charged, the reason for wanting to stay out of Europe’s bloodbath had to be motivated by some sneaking admiration for and sympathy with Nazism and Nazi hostility to the Jews.  Thanks to this false and distorted view of American rightists of that era as closet authoritarians and wannabe fascists (a view imported into the midst of the conservative movement with the arrival of the neoconservatives fresh from their roots on the left), its enemies succeeded in making principled non-interventionism and the American tradition of neutrality in foreign wars politically unpalatable and tarred their adherents with the label of anti-Semitism.  In my view, to participate in the continued sliming of principled opponents of interventionist foreign policy by crediting such baseless charges of anti-Semitism is a terrible thing.  It is important to avoid lending any support to the kinds of charges that Frum made, because they were all gross distortions, lies or misrepresentations of the worst kind.  To give them unwitting support lends credibility to the interventionists who used such disreputable tactics to help push the Iraq war, when credibility is the one thing these people do not have.