A classic episode of "Seinfeld" features Kramer visiting a friend’s workplace and getting pulled accidentally into a staff meeting. The attendees assume he works there and he gets along well with everybody, so he starts showing up each morning. He is not actually getting any work done, so one day the CEO calls him in to say "You’re fired."
“But I don’t really work here,” he protests.
“I know,” says the boss. “That’s what makes this so difficult.”
That scene came back to me this Memorial Day, reading Cindy Sheehan’s letter of resignation from a job she never did for people who never hired her. She was, so she says, the ‘face’ of the anti-war protest. But Democrats, she came to realize, backed her only until she pointed out their hypocrisy, mendacity, perfidy and pusillanimity. And a face without backing is like a lawyer without briefs. She will no longer be a party to her protest party being coopted by a political party, so they must part ways partway. Her little plot in Crawford, Texas, will thicken no more; it is up for sale.
The spectacle, though pathetic, is not without pathos. After all is said and done, the loss of her son cannot be unsaid and undone. Her sense of the war as an ignoble cause undercuts the consolation from the nobility of his passing. Seeing it all backwards makes her grieve all the more, lost on a sea of unnavigable pain. But beyond the empathy every human being deserves, her position is intrinsically indefensible. Not just wrong in the sense of incorrect — nothing wrong with being wrong — but wrong in the sense of inappropriate.
You see, there is a legitimate way to protest an ongoing conflict. Say you believed then, or believe now, that the moral arguments to unseat Saddam were insufficient, the self-defense concerns based on WMD projections were overblown and the regional democracy ambitions were unrealistic. Some conservatives shared that view at the time and even more do now, most prominently William F. Buckley and George Will. If you are vocal, or literary, on behalf of this sensibility, you are eligible to receive disagreement but not disrespect.
The same holds true if you maintain the war was a great idea at the time, the best available choice in the circumstances, but the resultant bog offers no benefit for our lingering. Here again you can make a case that proceeds from the premise that people of good will proceeded with good intentions to undertake an effort in good faith but deduces that fate did not produce a good result. Nothing undermining about saying we made a good investment but the company flopped and it is time to cut our losses. This is the language good people use when they participate in constructive debate.
The Cindy Sheehan clique, or claque, has not engaged the issues in this way. Instead we get to hear that a President and his administration sent our warriors into battle for crass, self-serving reasons. To make money for Halliburton because the Vice-President once worked there. To make money for oil companies because the President once worked there. To make money for big business in general because all Republicans work there. And so on and so forth, descending further and further into the fever swamps of character assassination, conspiratorial fantasy and generalized paranoia.
Jimmy Carter, to name one bozo at random, wrote the Iraq War was organized was for George W. Bush’s aggrandizement… as early as the April 2003 issue of the American Prospect, with the skirmish barely a month old. Doctor Dennis C. Jett, Dean of the International Center at the University of Florida, said recently in an interview that President Bush initiated the war for the sole purpose of securing reelection. John Kerry, in a commencement address at a community college, made a joke which he explained to mean that the President got us stuck in Iraq because he was a poor student. This type of thinking, if such it is, is well beyond the pale of civilized discourse.
The Iraq War, like any other, should be the subject of nationwide discussion. Facts, statistics, history, science, politics, economics, all these come into play. The idea may have been wrong, but that is irrelevant now. It may have been right but run its course, and we should get out having mostly succeeded. It may have been right but sabotaged by unforeseeable events, and we should get out having mostly stumbled. It may have been right to go in and still right to stay, in which case we should stay happily. It may have been right to go in and too scary to leave, in which case we should stay edgily. This decision calls for cool heads and an honest face. See ya, Cindy, it’s been real.