When Failure Is an Option

Bush Administration, conservatism, Iraq War, Middle East, Obama Administration

Rush and other mouthpieces for movement conservatism are not backing down from their public wish that Barack Obama fails. As Dave Neiwert says, his excuse for this is the time-honored foundation of all conservative morality — That other kid did it first.

Limbaugh: Did the Democrats want the war in Iraq to fail?

[Crowd shouts:] Yeah!

Limbaugh: Well, they certainly did. And they not only wanted the war in Iraq to fail, they proclaimed it a failure! There’s Dingy Harry Reid, waving a white flag, ‘This war is lost. This war — ‘ They called General Petraeus a liar before he even testified! [Boos.] Mrs. Clinton — [Loud boos] … Said she had to suspend, willingly suspend disbelief for whenever one had to listen to Petraeus. We were in the process of winning the war and the last thing they wanted was to win. They hoped George Bush failed.

Dave’s comment:

It would be one thing if Republicans were simply warning that Obama’s stimulus plans were doomed to failure. We’d understand that. It certainly would mirror how we felt about the Iraq war: we believed it was a doomed enterprise that would not only cost far more in human lives than anything that might possibly be gained from it, but would actually worsen the conditions for terrorism it purportedly meant to combat. We recognized that Bush’s rosy scenarios might come to pass, but we doubted it deeply — and said so, and rightly.

But it’s another thing altogether to openly hope for failure — in the case of the Iraq war, because it meant American soldiers would die needlessly, an outcome no one who loves America would want; and in the case of the economy, because it means that America is doomed to slide into a Depression. It will mean that millions of Americans will lose their jobs, millions will slide into poverty, and misery will be rampant.

Of course, from the moment the invasion of Iraq became public discussion, any arguments against it evoked howls about “Fifth Columnists” and “Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys” from the Right. I do not believe most of them see a difference between expressing the opinion that X is a bad idea and wanting X to fail. There’s a huge difference, of course, but I suspect it would be easier to teach algebra to a gerbil than to teach that difference to your standard wingnut. I personally would not want to waste my time trying.

However, it’s also the case that when a wingnut evokes “Iraq” and the rest of us speak of “Iraq,” we’re talking about entirely different things. I go back to my contention that right wingers, like the Tamarians of Star Trek TNG, see everything as part of a vast mythology.

When most people think of the War in Iraq, they see the Mother of All Boondoggles; a hopeless mess that was entered into foolishly, for reasons that proved to be false, and without proper planning, that has wasted billions (at least) of taxpayer dollars, has taken the lives of 4,255 American soldiers (so far), has caused immeasurable stress and hardship for military and reservists’ families, has drastically decreased our military’s ability to respond to other (and possible real this time) crises, has eroded American prestige, has probably increased the risk of another terrorist attack, and has generally pissed off the planet.

When you say “Iraq” to a wingnut, however, out of the misty haze of his brain comes a mythical vision of good versus evil, where the shining forces of righteousness (righties) eternally battle the dark, malevolent Other (everybody else). And victory over the Other is not really about the Middle East or even 9/11. It’s about preserving Christmas and Jesus and gun shows, and the right of white Americans to hear no language but English spoken in the aisles of Wal-Mart. And, of course, conquering the Other requires unwavering faith. To doubt is to embolden the enemy. Through our very brain waves, we doubters gave strength to the Other; and because we refused to clap, the fairy almost died.

For the rest of us, who think somewhat more analytically, if we are accused of wanting the war in Iraq to “fail,” I’d have to ask for clarification. What part of it exactly did we want to “fail”? We on the Left do have a pubescent fringe whose antics are lovingly documented by Michelle Malkin as representative of all of us, but the truth is that Democratic Party leaders and the huge majority of liberal political activists have been supportive of the troops all along, and have not spoken against military victory in Iraq. Nor am I aware of anyone who has opposed democratic elections in Iraq or hoped the government of Iraq would fail and be replaced by a junta of Islamic radicals.

What we’ve opposed, other than the damnfool invasion itself, is the incompetence and corruption. It’s the way the Bush Administration was perpetually six months (at least) behind in responding to ongoing developments. It’s the way billions of taxpayer dollars have been soaked up by corrupt contractors or just plain evaporated. It’s the way the Bush Administration was forever coming up with post-hoc strategies that were more about domestic consumption than real-world application.

Because we actually noticed this stuff, and commented on it out loud, we were not playing by the rules of rightie myth. “Winning” requires us all to shut our eyes, keep visions of John Wayne at Iwo Jima in our heads, and to speak only of honor, glory and resolve.

On the other hand, if President Obama’s stimulus programs fail, we and much of the rest of the planet will be plunged into another Great Depression. We might end up there, anyway, for policies that are too little and too late. But not acting pretty much guarantees it.

Now, it may be that righties really don’t want another Great Depression, any more than I supported Saddam Hussein or wanted Iraq to collapse into a failed state. (Note to wingnuts: I didn’t, and I didn’t.) They just don’t comprehend that we’ll end up there if we don’t get currency moving through peoples’ hands again, and fast. Whether they don’t understand this because they’re blinkered by ideology or just plain stupid, I’ll let you decide. The fact is that the Right hasn’t come up with a alternative plan beyond oh, let’s just keep doing what we’ve been doing, which is what got us into this mess. Not an option.

Then you’ve got the faction (most righties, I suspect) who sincerely believe Barack Obama is an agent of totalitarian socialism who is trying to undermine republican government and turn the U.S. into a gulag. These are the same people who are insulted if you call them “John Birchers,” mind you.

If one really believes this, then I suppose it would be one’s patriotic duty to want Barack Obama to fail. I would argue it’s their patriotic duty to get professional help.

Update: See John Cole.

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Charles  •  Mar 4, 2009 @3:30 pm

    I feel compelled to point out that Harry Reid was right, sniveler though he was, and still is. Iraq, as a robust, non-sectarian, multicultural democracy in the middle east, demonstrating the “benefits” of democracy and western laissez-faire capitalism, does not exist. What we have instead is a pathetic, all-but-failed state, dominated by ethnic, tribal, and sectarian rivalries, whose fragile peace is held together by American force and bribery, and which still boasts millions of refugees.

    The players in the Iraqi game, meanwhile, are positioning themselves for the inevitable power struggle that will occur when the Americans stop bribing the Sunni tribes, or when the Iranian-backed militias decide to make their move, or when the arabs of the north decide to strike back against the Kurds, or when the prime minister decides to crush his opponents and govern as a dictator, or, perhaps, all of the above.

    The longer the “peace” is maintained through force, the stronger will be the players when they are freed to fight it out, and the more violent the result.

    And it almost certainly will happen — a certain as anything in this world is. This isn’t a wish that it will, merely a prediction. There isn’t a thing we can do except get out as fast as we can, and try to minimize the resulting bloodbath through diplomacy.

  2. Evan  •  Mar 4, 2009 @3:57 pm

    Pleased though I am with the way that Limbaugh’s been turned into a wedge issue, in my heart of hearts I’ve actually had a hard time working up much dudgeon about this “failure” rhetoric because, honestly, he’s only mostly wrong when he says we wanted the Iraq war to fail. The thing is he doesn’t define “fail” (just as Bush never defined “success”), and it makes a difference.

    I did not want any American soldiers or any Iraqis to die. I wanted the war not to happen in the first place. And once it did happen, I hoped for the best possible outcome for America and America’s interests (and Iraq and Iraq’s interests, too, which were bound up with ours.)

    But I can’t say I hoped for the war to be a “success” on Republicans’ terms. Bush never said what “success” would look like, but the Partnership for a New American Century did, back before they all took over the defense department–and what they wanted for the future of America was evil. They talked blithely about imposing a Pax Americana–a literal American Empire. It’s bad to be an Empire.

    If the war had been wildly successful, according to all the PNAC predictions–Saddam quickly toppled and replaced with a fully effective occupation government, minimal loss of US lives and a big “who cares” about Iraqi lives, billions of dollars in oil revenue immediately paying back the war debt, and a hundred thousand American troops based in the heart of the Middle East, poised and ready to march on Damascus and Tehran–that would have left the world in a much more dangerous state than before, and a Bush administration emboldened with even more of a conviction of its own infallibility.

    I really, really did not want that to happen. I thought it massively unlikely, too–but in the hypothetical world in which such a “victory” was remotely possible, I would’ve found it undesirable. So by a PNAC definition, yeah, I wanted the war to fail.

    When I hear conservatives saying they want Obama to fail, I think they mean something a litle bit like that. It’s not that they want the economy to crater and people to starve and freeze in the dark; it’s that they don’t want Obama to be wildly successful at what he’s doing, because if he is, it will embolden and empower him to keep doing other liberal stuff that they’re even more afraid of.

    Their fears are stupid, of course. (And mine, about Bush, were not. “ONOZ! Minimum-wage workers might be able to unionize and make more money and then America will be like Europe” vs. “Increasing the risk of global nuclear conflagration”… which one of these does a sane person worry about more?)

    But I understand that their fears are real to them, and I can sympathize in a way.

  3. maha  •  Mar 4, 2009 @4:04 pm

    Bush never said what “success” would look like,

    No one in the Administration ever did, I don’t believe.

    but the Partnership for a New American Century did, back before they all took over the defense department–and what they wanted for the future of America was evil. They talked blithely about imposing a Pax Americana–a literal American Empire. It’s bad to be an Empire.

    Good point.

  4. moonbat  •  Mar 4, 2009 @4:04 pm

    I’ve had time to think about this. I will say that in general, I want evil to fail. I consider what Bush did in Iraq, and how he lied to the world to do it, as evil – not just stupid, not just incompetent, but plainly evil, and so yes, I wanted his plans to fail. Of course I don’t wish death and suffering to the soldiers and families who for a variety of reasons were enlisted to implement Bush’s plans – this goes back to the whole incapability of the troop-supporters to see, and more importantly, to own the bigger picture – but the plain fact is, this bigger picture of America kicking over some small country that had nothing to do with 9/11 – and even Bush finally admitted this – is evil and deserving of failure. The hundreds of thousands of innocent people who died for Bush’s lies and greed – is there a bigger evil than that?

    Now, this doesn’t say anything about the terrorists – what they’re doing is evil as well. I don’t want them to succeed either.

    But this whole right wing self-righteousness and willful blindness – that whatever act we do – even killing hundreds of thousands of innocents – is by definition good, because we ourselves are good – is sick and evil, I will fight that too.

    So yes, I would say Rush is on to something, but what I’ve just explained is well beyond his moral capacity to acknowledge, let alone admit into the public discourse. Because his real agenda is not honest communication, but winning by demonizing his opponents. This man is evil too, because he deliberately leads millions astray from the truth of any situation. He’s also the biggest coward in this country, and that is saying a lot.

  5. c u n d gulag  •  Mar 4, 2009 @4:49 pm

    Here’s us on the Iraq invasion and occupation: Jumping on that bridge is a bad idea…
    Their take on it: You hate American bridges!
    Here’s our take on the economy: Jumping off that bridge is a bad idea…
    The Conservatives on the economy: I hope the bridge fails!

    Too simplistic? Maybe. You be the judge… (Simple is what they understand).

  6. joanr16  •  Mar 4, 2009 @6:05 pm

    I will say that in general, I want evil to fail. I consider what Bush did in Iraq, and how he lied to the world to do it, as evil – not just stupid, not just incompetent, but plainly evil, and so yes, I wanted his plans to fail.

    I simply can’t say it better than this.

  7. zeppo  •  Mar 4, 2009 @6:48 pm

    Very fine post, and some pretty good discussion in the comments.

  8. Daphne Chyprious  •  Mar 4, 2009 @6:49 pm

    How about both? Their ideology stinks and they’re stupid. If not: their ideology stinks because they’re stupid. And damn you, Maha, for being so nuanced, so capable of complex thinking. A true liberal. They’ll never wise up by reading this blog. 🙂

  9. Doug Hughes  •  Mar 4, 2009 @7:51 pm

    “They’ll never wise up by reading this blog.”

    Barbara knows better than to try to educate Conservatives. Her target is any open mind.

    I heard a very telling audio clip of Rush: he does not consider himself a Republican; he considers himself a CONSERVATIVE. In that statement I see the loaded gun he holds at the temple of the GOP. Play ball my way or I will take my mindless minions and create a new splinter party. The resulting GOP might be a viable opposition voice, but they couldn’t take the risk of sliding into permanent minority status.

    This leaves the GOP (under Rush) with only one strategy: PRAY DEMOCRATS FAIL! Because if Obama succeeds, they are the minority party for the foreseeable future.

  10. Swami  •  Mar 4, 2009 @9:00 pm

    A wonderful post, maha. I enjoy the clarity of your mind.

    Great comments that leave nothing more to be said. Although I will say I am proud to be a participant in this blog and share the company so many fine commenters who have demonstrated their love for America by coming against the forces that seek to debauch her.

    moonbat.. Your comment was exceptional..thank you for expressing it so well.

  11. Pat Pattillo  •  Mar 4, 2009 @11:55 pm

    I was alive and wide awake when Bush was President…sadly enough. Sleeping through the torture like Rip Van Winkle would have been preferable despite the unavoidable shock upon waking.

    I do recall that the meme of the day was not hope that Iraq would be lost but rational belief that it would while simultaneous hoping to be wrong. Btu such was the case with so much during the reign of young King George. We thought that he was wrecking America and regretted every second of it.

    No one was egging him on to fail further than he already had. Most every opinion I stated about Bush was suffixed with “…and I hope I am wrong. I could live with that.”