Conor Friedersdorf draws our attention back to the days before the beginning of the Iraq war, when there was a massive, global anti-war movement that was essentially over-ridden and ignored by the administration in the rush toward war. Indeed, I can recall President Bush arguing that the protests were irrelevant because he couldn't "govern by opinion polls."
But what's often forgotten retrospectively is how viciously the anti-war movement was mocked and made the target of irrational hatred. I remember it vividly, but Conor performs a valuable service by collecting some of the classic expressions of anti-war hatred from the beginning of the war. Here are a few of the gems he recalls:
Glen Reynolds: "the 'anti-war' movement is objectively on [Saddm's] side, and not neutral ... When your movement is the key tool of a nasty dictator it should give you pause, shouldn't it?"
Andrew Sullivan (who also referred to the anti-war movement as "objectively pro-terrorist"): "Almost the whole academic class, the media elites, the college-educated urbanites, the entertainment industry and so on are now reflexively anti-war. Worse in fact: there is very little argument or debate going on in these sub-populations, simply an assumption that war against Saddam is wrong, and that all right-thinking people agree about this."
Jonah Goldberg: "what's so damning about the knee-jerk opposition of so many anti-war liberals -- it's based in animus, not logic. Almost every week I have to debate some opponent of the war on CNN or radio, and most of the time, I get the sense that their reasons for opposing Bush are echoed in McGrory's sentiments. They don't like war for vague, emotional reasons." As Conor notes: as though being emotionally averse to war was a character flaw.
Brenden O'Neill: "Most of the new antiwar groups express an entirely personal opposition to war, one based more on moral revulsion than effective political opposition ... Protesters voice a personal distaste for violent conflict, rather than organizing a collective stand against it. And when opposing war is about making pompous moral statements about me, myself, and I, you can count me out." Again, as Conor notes, the strange accusation that taking a moral stand against war is some kind of personal failing.
Conor goes on to note several more examples, and remarks that he could easily multiply examples exponentially. But the point is clear: It wasn't enough for those in favor of the war to believe that the anti-war movement was wrong. They went out of their way to vilify the movement as being pro-Saddam, pro-terrorist, pro-American capitulation, anti-Israel, spineless, effete, and cowardly.
And please bear in mind: After all was said and done, the backers of the war were proved to be totally wrong. The anti-war movement was shown to have been completely right, and yet ... as Chris Hayes noted the other night, the rewards have continued to flow for the past decade toward those who backed the war, and the opponents of the war are still treated like patchouli aroma-ed, hackeysacking, drum-circling hippies, despite having had the better arguments at the time, and despite having been vindicated by history.
Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Max Boot, and even the liberal Hawks like Matt Yglesias and Ezra Klein who were all in favor of the war have either maintained their standing or gone on to more and more prominent platforms. And in many cases, I don't begrudge them that. But it remains worth asking: Is there any price to be paid for having been so totally wrong? And will an apology ever be forthcoming from many of those -- apart from Andrew Sullivan -- who were wrong at the time and engaged in this kind of vituperation? Doubtful. Being pro-war means never having to say you're sorry.
But for the rest of us, I hope that the lesson of the past decade has been that it is always better to begin from a place of deep skepticism about war in general, and about the necessity for any particular war. While it should be possible to overcome that skepticism in the rarest of circumstances, it should never be easy to do so. And while refusing to support war as a matter of principle in the vast majority of cases may mean that there are places and times where we could fight and perhaps should fight but don't, it is, I think, better than fighting in places and at times when would should not and must not, as was the case in Iraq.