I didn’t watch the Republican candidate debate last night, and it wasn’t on my mind this morning until I ran into this headline on the McClatchy Newspaper Washington Bureau site …
… after which I was seized with a terror that I was stuck in some kind of time-loop anomaly and was reliving 1999. And also 1994, and 1980, and no doubt 1924. And some other years.
But no, I am still in the common time continuum. It’s the Republican Party that’s stuck in a time-loop anomaly.
Several rightie bloggers today are hooting that Ron Paul, darling of the antiwar libertarians, blew his candidacy by blaming the U.S. for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I haven’t found a transcript of the debate; if someone else runs across one, please post the link in the comments. However, I believe I got some clues about what Ron Paul said from Byron York’s account —
For a man who had just grabbed the spotlight in a nationally televised presidential debate, Ron Paul seemed a little, well, defensive. A few minutes after the debate ended here at the University of South Carolina, Paul, a Republican congressman from Texas, ventured into the Spin Room to talk to reporters, only to find that they wanted to know whether he really blamed the United States for the September 11 terrorist attacks.
â€œWho did that?â€ Paul snapped. â€œWho blamed America?â€
â€œWell, your critics felt that you did.â€
â€œNo, I blamed bad policy over 50 years that leads to anti-Americanism,â€ Paul said. â€œThatâ€™s little bit different from saying â€˜blame America.â€™ Donâ€™t put those words in my mouth.â€
â€œBut the policies were bad American policies?â€
â€œWeâ€™ve had an interventionist foreign policy for 50 years that has come back to haunt us,â€ Paul continued. â€œSo thatâ€™s not â€˜Blame Americaâ€™ â€” thatâ€™s demagoguing, distorting issuesâ€¦Thatâ€™s deceitful to say those kinds of things.â€
Ah, I see. Ron Paul tripped over one of the biggest sacred cows in the GOP corral, which is that one must never, ever attempt to understand how terrorists think. It’s a bugaboo of the conservative brain that to admit the 9/11 terrorists have any reasons at all — including unjust and unfair reasons — for committing the 9/11 attacks, this amounts to “blaming America.” The rightie pure of heart must remain willfully ignorant of what motivates terrorists. Terrorists in Rightie World are allowed to have only the irrational, unconscious motivations of beasts — they hate us for our freedoms.
For example, people who understand these things say that Osama bin Laden’s original motivation for organizing al Qaeda was the deployment of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. Acknowledging this is not “blaming America.” We can argue, factually, that we deployed troops to Saudi Arabia with Saudi permission to free Kuwait from Iraqi control. And you can rightfully say that Osama bin Laden objected to infidel troops in the land of the Prophet because he is a religious whackjob. But as soon as anyone starts to talk about why Osama bin Laden organized al Qaeda, righties cover their ears and screech about “blaming America.”
John Nichols of The Nation provides us with a little more information on what Ron Paul actually said:
Asked about his opposition to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, Paul repeated his oft-expressed concern that instead of making the U.S. safer, U.S. interventions in the Middle East over the years have stirred up anti-American sentiment. As he did in the previous Republican debate, the Texan suggested that former President Ronald Reagan’s decisions to withdraw U.S. troops from the region in the 198Os were wiser than the moves by successive Republican and Democratic presidents to increase U.S. military involvement there.
Speaking of extremists who target the U.S, Paul said, “They attack us because we’ve been over there. We’ve been bombing Iraq for 10 years. We’ve been in the Middle East [for years]. I think (Ronald) Reagan was right. We don’t understand the irrationality of Middle Eastern politics. Right now, we’re building an embassy in Iraq that is bigger than the Vatican. We’re building 14 permanent bases. What would we say here if China was doing this in our country or in the Gulf of Mexico? We would be objecting.”
Paul argued that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are “delighted that we’re over there” in Iraq, pointing out that, “They have already… killed 3,400 of our men and I don’t think it was necessary.”
Here’s why I’m glad I didn’t watch the debate:
Giuliani, going for an applause line with a conservative South Carolina audience that was not exactly sympathetic with his support for abortion rights and other socially liberal positions, leapt on Paul’s remarks. Interrupting the flow of the debate, Giuliani declared, “That’s really an extraordinary statement. That’s really an extraordinary statement, as someone who lived through the attack of Sept. 11, that we invited the attack because we were attacking Iraq. I don’t think I have ever heard that before and I have heard some pretty absurd explanations for Sept. 11. I would ask the congressman withdraw that comment and tell us that he didn’t really mean that.”
I believe I would not have kept my supper down after that. As mayor of New York City, Giuliani often was an insufferable prick. But since 9/11 he has expanded insufferable prickitude to Godzilla proportions.
But again, to admit to past foreign policy mistakes — Reagan’s sending Marines into Lebanon with no clear idea of what was going on there and what the Marines were supposed to do about it is a good example — is not to say that the United States “invited” the terrorist attacks, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the attacks were somehow justified.
What this shows us is why righties cannot learn from mistakes. And it shows us the mindset of people who, after more than four years of blundering, refuse even to reconsider the Iraq War.
Righties are so terrified of the ghost of Neville Chamberlain they seem to think that even trying to understand what the enemy wants amounts to â€œappeasement.â€ Thus the vacuous nonsense about â€œthey hate us for our freedoms.â€ But understanding what the enemy wants isnâ€™t just about negotiation or appeasement, but understanding who the enemy is. This is vital when the enemy is a stateless faction, because what they want is what defines them. Itâ€™s what sets them apart from other people who might live in same region and share the same ethnic and religious heritage, but who are not necessarily our enemies. If we donâ€™t understand clearly who, precisely, we are fighting, how can we develop effective tactics and strategies? How can we efficiently direct our resources to strike the people we most need to strike?
And the answer is, of course, that we can’t. We fight terrorism in a fog of ignorance, and blindly squander resources and lives. Under George W. Bush’s “leadership” al Qaeda has gone from being a relatively small, albeit well-funded, pack of fringe radical misfits to being the heroes of the Muslim world. Heck of a job, folks.
For another view of the debate, here’s Andrew Sullivan:
The Republicans, we learned, have absolutely no idea what to do about Iraq. The only two people with coherent positions were McCain and Paul. McCain supports a war without end, a permanent occupation of Iraq, regardless of whether a national government there can exist in the foreseeable future. He’s for empire, as are Cheney and Bush. I can see no reason for him to withdraw any troops in the next five years. The notion that a national Iraqi government, composed of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds, will be able to defend itself and take the side of the West in the war in Jihadist terror is simply ludicrous in the imaginable future. That much we surely know by now. So empire is the new Republican consensus: an empire built entirely for security reasons, and an empire which somehow manages to make us less secure. Paul, in contrast, had the balls to state the classic Republican position, and to defend it in the wake of 9/11. Man, that guy has some brass cojones. He even invoked Ronald Reagan in urging withdrawal from the irrationality of Arab politics. Other than McCain and Paul, the others were risible in their soundbites and faux toughness.
Logan Murphy writes at Crooks and Liars that Fox News is attacking Ron Paul. Expect the Republican powers that be to mercilessly deride Rep. Paul as a flake and possibly even a liberal. But Paul may represent the only viable possible future for the Republican Party. Last night’s event may have been less of a debate than it was a mass stampede over a cliff.
See also: Taylor Marsh.
Update: See also Digby.