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You Don’t Want This, Wehner

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"You Don’t Want This, Wehner"

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Former Bush administration official Peter Wehner’s latest paean to the Iraq surge contains a lot of what we’ve seen before, but then steps seriously wrong.

Befitting the legacy of Commentary magazine’s longtime editor Norman Podhoretz, Wehner is less concerned with actually considering the practical implications of the moralistic national security policies he champions than he is with wielding that moralism as a bludgeon against his political enemies. Consequently, you will find no mention in Wehner’s article of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have been killed and maimed as a result of the glorious war that Wehner supported and shilled for. No reference to the cleansing and displacement of more than 4 million Iraqis as a result of the invasion and occupation that he continues to insist, in stone defiance of overwhelming, if not conclusive evidence to the contrary, is a foreign policy success. And certainly nothing of the jihadists who are now returning home — better trained, and more deeply indoctrinated — from the front that Wehner would have us believe represents a victory against global jihadism.

Wehner’s purpose is not to consider the Iraq war’s effects on America’s overall national security, but to hail the surge. But even here he stumbles. His assertion that violence in Iraq has returned to almost “normal” levels is accompanied by an unintentionally ironic footnote, which informs us that “‘security incidents’ in Iraq are at levels not seen since early 2004.” Speaking at the Heritage Foundation earlier this month, General David Petraeus noted that attacks had decreased from a high of 180 per day in 2007 to 25 per day. 25 is better than 180, certainly, and our commanders and soldiers deserve recognition for that. But 25 terrorist attacks a day is not normalcy.

Obscuring that point is all in a day’s work for a partisan propagandist like Wehner. It’s part of his job to spin the winning of twenty dollars after the loss of a thousand as proof of George W. Bush’s poker acumen.

But Wehner also writes something that I think requires special attention.

Contemplating those writers who haven’t interpreted the surge as the spectacular policy vindication-cum-ideological resurrection he imagines it to be, Wehner asks “what are we to say of the opinion shapers, the editorial writers of our great newspapers, the essayists and columnists and book authors who, unconstrained by petty interest, present themselves as stalwartly independent spirits willing to follow the truth wherever it may lead?”

What was at work in them when the evidence of American progress — which started as a trickle, and then became a river, and eventually became a flood — could no longer be denied? For not only did they continue to deny it, but they actively promoted an alternative policy of withdrawal and retreat that would have made an American defeat, and a jihadist and Iranian victory, inevitable. Is it not fair to say that what was at work in them was an ideological antipathy not just to an American President, but to America’s cause?

Is it not fair to say that Wehner’s own reputation is so tethered to the Bush legacy in Iraq that he’s about as credible as a sub-contractor trying to unload used asbestos?

Responding to criticism of Bush’s foreign policy from George Will in 2006, Wehner wrote that Will’s prescriptions “would eventually lead to death and destruction on a scale that is almost unimaginable.” He levels a similar charge against the surge’s critics in his latest piece. But, of course, there’s nothing “eventually” about the the ideas and policies that Wehner has championed. They have, in fact, lead to death and destruction in Iraq on a scale that is now all too imaginable, thanks to the administration which Wehner served.

Let’s have some straight talk, my friends: I completely, utterly reject the idea that a Bush administration appliance like Peter Wehner — someone who has personally abetted and propagandized for one of the most heinous and consequential national security blunders in the history of the United States — is remotely qualified to address the Iraq war’s critics from a position of moral authority, much less question their commitment to “America’s cause.”

I suppose I could challenge Wehner to produce evidence — any evidence — that “the opinion shapers, the editorial writers of our great newspapers, the essayists and columnists and book authors” that he mentions harbor “ideological antipathy” to “America’s cause,” but that would be a waste of time. In Wehner’s mind, America’s cause is the conservative cause. And frankly, if Commentary magazine actually required its writers to have the goods on all the Americans whose loyalty they’ve impugned over the past decades, they’d never get anything published.

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