I just watched the great Lincoln Chafee, formerly a Rhode Island senator, now the author of Against the Tide, on C-Span talking about the war and politics at the Watson Institute last month. He made a few great points.
The most salient was one I’ve expressed here: War contains atrocity, and the horror over Abu Ghraib is kind of a rear guard moral action by people who supported the war to somehow justify their disastrous choice by crying out, Look how they screwed it up! As if occupying an Arab society could have been done well, and it was Cheney and a bunch of degraded majors and sergeants and Lyndie England who botched things. Chafee said Look, Vietnam produced My Lai; war is a horrible thing. Charles Lindbergh, as I have pointed out here before, served in WW2, the great war, and in his (fabulous) war journals pointed out the terrible things that the Greatest Generation did to Japanese soldiers in the South Pacific–threw them out of airplanes alive, blocked their egress from caves and poured oil down inside and torched them, etc. I favor none of this stuff. But I’ve studied war enough to know that it brutalizes people and utterly strips the enemy of humanity and it is much easier to judge this behavior from an armchair having voted for the war than if you spend all day worrying about being maimed by IEDs. Palestinians murder innocent Israelis out of something of the same dehumanization, Israelis commit atrocities likewise; war is a cycle of violence.
Chafee reminded us that the real error was the decision to invade. "This is insanity," Chafee said to his Republican caucus back in 2002 and got blank looks back. He at least had "done the homework," looked at the evidence, had gone to the CIA and spoken to the analysts and seen what the case for war consisted in, understood it to be baseless. "There was no evidence," Chafee said. Saddam threatened the U.S.–nuts! He was coming down Main Street! Insanity, Chafee said again. This is why I and many thousands of others were in the streets protesting the war plans. Then it took us three days to capture Baghdad, Chafee went on; this was some great threat to us? Obama should be making this point: Hillary didn’t do the homework.
Chafee also went after the neocons.
He has read all their books, as I have, and says their program was clear. They wanted to transform Iraq and democratize the Middle East, whatever that means (Is Israel included?). We never debated that in the Senate, Chafee said. If they wanted to have that debate, we should have had it. Oh I love Lincoln Chafee.
Couple other things he said: He loves Obama. Well he would, he’s from the Protestant elite. And I’m from the Jewish elite. Of course we love Obama. He’s smart. Maybe it’s time for Americans to seek an elite smart candidate, to turn the tide of ignorance. Maybe it’s time to tip our cap to the aristocratic model of leadership.
The 9/11 commission didn’t do its job. Why did Building 7 of the World Trade Center collapse in the manner that it did, not having been hit by a plane? Chafee said, I don’t go into conspiracy theory but why didn’t the 9/11 Commission look into this. Interesting. No, I don’t get into this stuff either on this site, because it’s too far out for me, and I’ve been there before, and this time I’m not interested, I am trying to talk to the mainstream about mainstreamable issues. But isn’t it interesting that the handsome presentable wealthy Rhode Island senator is picking up this hot poker?
Asked by a Brown senior what he should do with his life, Chafee quoted the great James Michener and said that he had written in a brochure circulated at Brown, when Chafee was a senior, "Go waste young man" — spend some years knocking around. Then you will have experiences to base your worldview on. Michener didn’t write a word till he was 40. Chafee became a blacksmith for a while. He told the kids to drive trucks or go into the Peace Corps. Good advice. Two cheers for aristocracy! The problem with the meritocracy is that the only basis of its worldview is success, achievement, and schmoozing with other successful people at some institution. Makes it easy to vote for a war when your kids don’t have a chance in Iraq, sorry, a chance in hell, of having to serve in the prisons there….